Cachexia research at La Trobe University

Cachexia research at La Trobe University

Cachexia is a
condition that’s often associated with cancer, and in particular in
the later stages of cancer. Patients have a loss
of appetite, a loss of weight, significant loss of weight. And they also have a loss of muscle tone
which reduces their strength significantly. Up to 80% of
patients with solid tumours get cachexia. A number of the oncologists I have spoken
to say that they have never really seen a patient, cancer patient with
advanced cancer that doesn’t have cachexia. The implications of that
is that patients with cachexia are unable to look after themselves. They increasingly can’t perform
activities of daily living. And more importantly they’re not able
to undergo the types of treatments that we would routinely give them
to try and control their disease. The mortality rates
due to the cachexia is very significant. In many ways it would be regarded as the
most serious side-effect of cancer if you like. Because eventually you have to stop therapy
when people become so weak and emaciated they can’t stand treatment any further. So having a cure for it, or an
ability to treat it, is really critical. So a number of years
ago we made a very exciting discovery which is that a molecule called FN14
when expressed on tumours is able to initiate this very severe wasting disease. Like so many things
in science, the cachexia discovery was an accidental discovery, was a surprise discovery. Knocked our shoes off so
to speak, you know. When we came across it we really
were interested in making antibodies or magic bullets against a particular receptor
which was found in essentially all cancers you want to look at;
and this particular receptor was called FN14. So what we did
was we went ahead and made what we call an antibody therapy. So antibodies are molecules that the
body normally, the immune system uses to fight disease and infection and we
used that in our laboratory models. And we were able to show with
that antibody therapy that we could completely 0
block the onset and progression of any weight loss. Given in normal and healthy tissue, the
level of expression of FN14 is either very low of absent. What we would like to do with our
antibody therapy is in a setting where there is cachexia present, and in the case
of cancer cachexia is actually use a therapy to be able to switch
off the activation of FN14. So if you can switch if off, then
we can switch off the weight loss process. The partnership
between La Trobe University and the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute
is incredibly valuable because it allows the discoveries and the wonderful
people at La Trobe University to interface with people like us who are
actually dealing with patients on a day to day basis. And by doing so, we are able to
bring a bridge between the science and the discovery into the clinic and hopefully
improved treatments for patients with cancer. Wouldn’t
it be absolutely thrilling to see people recover from their cachexia. Or if we treat them early enough,
prevent them from getting cachexia at all. So that’s part of the game too. To get an early diagnosis for cachexia
so you can actually start treating it very early stage. So that’s where we’re heading. Discoveries like this are transformative. We don’t often see them. And when we do see them we want
to take them forward as quickly and as passionately as we can, and that’s
what we are trying to do. The notion that
our findings could potentially lead in the not too distant future to a therapy
that could really help so many people, and people all around the world could
benefit from the research we are doing here at La Trobe, it’s really
quite mind blowing and certainly something that gets me up every morning to work
and keeps us very driven and focused towards our end goal which
is really helping people.

One thought on “Cachexia research at La Trobe University

  1. just amazing !! just another reason why I want to join the team at La Trobe university and shape my future there!! its in the top 1.4 % of universities worldwide !!

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