Dr Bernard Pope, the University of Melbourne: Developing solutions to aid the early detection and treatment of colorectal cancer

Survival from colorectal cancer and patient’s quality of life are significantly improved by early detection, treatment, and risk management. This research develops genomics driven bioinformatics solutions for a more personalised approach to diagnosis and assessment.

Visit the Victorian Health and Medical Research Fellowships section to find out more.

Dr Bernard Pope:

Colorectal cancer is commonly known as bowel cancer and it's the second highest rate of cancer occurring in Australia and Internationally. About 17,000 Australians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year. About 4,000 or a bit more than 4,000 will die from colorectal cancer this year. So it is a very significant disease and it's a disease that has a familial component and that's the area that I am particularly interested in. So that means there are people with their families who inherit DNA changes through their parents that increase their risks substantially for developing cancer through their life.

One of the areas we are looking at is a syndrome called Lynch syndrome. Lynch syndrome is caused by defects in certain repair mechanisms in cells that protect the DNA from damage. When you have a defective repair mechanism your cells can accumulate more damage than they can tolerate and that can lead to the development of cancer.

The fellowships are funded by the Victorian Government and the fellowships provide funding for researchers to continue with and focus on their research program for a four year period. They were valued at up to $800,000. Through the fellowship, I will be able to collaborate extensively with my colleagues. Modern scientific research in life sciences especially, is highly collaborative and multi-disciplinary. So I collaborate with colleagues who are biologists and clinicians. What we have end up with is large amounts of data that needs to be interpreted and there's extensive computation required there, lots of data analytics and statistics.

So I applied for the fellowship because colorectal cancer is survivable and early detection is critical to that. And so this fellowship is really targeted at developing technologies for early detection and therefore improving survivability for important disease.