Existing blood disorder medicine shows promise in treating certain stomach and bowel cancers

Cancer scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) have recently discovered an existing treatment for a blood disorder could potentially also treat stomach and bowel cancer – two of the most common cancers worldwide.

Pre-clinical trials have found an existing class of medicines called ‘JAK inhibitors’ reduce the growth of inflammation often associated with stomach and bowel cancer.

JAK inhibitors are currently being used to treat myelofibrosis and are currently in clinical trials for the treatment of other conditions such as leukaemia, lymphoma, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

By understanding the way molecules are involved in promoting the survival and growth of cancer cells, researchers have been able to identify which of these molecules can be targeted with potential anti-cancer treatments.

The research team at WEHI discovered that certain types of bowel and stomach cancer were influenced by proteins, called JAKs, which helped with the cancer growth and formation.

Dr Emma Stuart, Dr Tracy Putoczki and Associate Professor Matthias Ernst from the WEHI made this discovery.

“It was exciting to discover that when JAKs were blocked with existing medications (JAK inhibitors), bowel and stomach cancer growth in experimental models was slowed, and many of the cancer cells were killed,” Dr Stuart said.

The discovery of JAK inhibitors has stemmed from research into the links between inflammation and cancers of the digestive tract.

“Recently we have begun to unravel the complex signalling that occurs in inflamed tissues, such as when a person has a stomach ulcer or suffers from inflammatory bowel disease, and how this drives cancer development,” said Dr Stuart.

This discovery of a treatment that already exists which can be safely and successfully inhibited in patients is very promising.

The Australian Cancer Research Foundation is dedicated to funding research which leads to better treatment outcomes for all types of cancer, and we are proud to have provided millions of dollars in funding to the team of researchers working at Melbourne’s WEHI.

These findings have been published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.