Cabrini Senior Research Fellow Dr Rebekah Engel has received an Honourable Mention in the 2020 Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium Award for Outstanding Cancer Research. The award recognises the achievements of innovative and impactful Victorian mid-career cancer researchers, to reward research excellence and encourage future research leadership. Dr Engel received an Honourable Mention based on her research and publication ‘Patient-derived colorectal cancer organoids upregulate revival stem cell marker genes following chemotherapeutic treatment’.

Dr Engel’s research involves the analysis of organoids to improve outcomes for patients with bowel cancer, ascertaining personalised treatment plans according to their characteristics of their tumour. Organoids are miniaturised versions of the tumour tissue which is removed from the patient and then grown in the laboratory as avatars of the original tumour. Different types of treatments are tested on the organoids to in an effort to determine which treatment will work best for that tumour, so that the best treatment option can be predicted for that patient.

“We know that if detected early, over 90% of cases of bowel cancer can be successfully treated” says Dr Engel, “but often patients will be given the same standard course of treatment (including surgery followed by standard chemotherapy drugs), and that doesn’t work for everyone. This ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to cancer medicine does not account for inter-individual differences that impact a patients’ ability to respond to therapy.”

“The other downside to standardised treatment is that chemotherapy drugs can be associated with significant side effects. Our project aims to be able to predict which patients will respond to which treatment, distinguishing between effective and ineffective treatments, which will ultimately spare patients from the unnecessary side effects of drugs which may have little impact on their treatment response.”

As well as testing existing cancer treatments, the use of cancer organoids allows for the testing of new and emerging cancer treatments. “The testing is carried out on the organoid, not the patient, which means zero risk to the patient” says Dr Engel.

Dr Engel’s research is one of a multitude of studies administered by Cabrini Institute (the research and education arm of Cabrini Australia) and is conducted in collaboration with the laboratory of Professor Helen Abud at the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University. Both Professor Abud and Professor Paul McMurrick (Head of the Cabrini Monash University Department of Surgery) nominated Dr Engel for the award. “Rebekah produces some outstanding work and we are delighted that she has been recognised as one of Victoria’s most innovative researchers” says Professor McMurrick.

The 2020 Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium Award for Outstanding Cancer Research incorporates all researchers in cancer from Monash University and all of its partner hospitals including Cabrini. The Honourable Mention cements Cabrini’s research as one of the leading comprehensive cancer research and treatment facilities in Victoria.

“I’m deeply grateful to Professors Abud and McMurrick for nominating my work, and for the Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium for recognising it” says Dr Engel. “Hopefully this recognition will lead to further awareness and funding for bowel cancer research.”

Dr Engel’s research relies on funding through Let’s Beat Bowel Cancer (A Cabrini Initiative chaired by Professor Paul McMurrick) and Cabrini Foundation. In 2019 a robotic machine was purchased to automate the high volume screening tests, and donations are gratefully utilised to fund laboratory consumables and a research assistant. If you would like to support or learn more about Dr Engel’s bowel cancer research visit letsbeatbowelcancer.com.au.

The staff at Cabrini Australia, Cabrini Foundation and Let’s Beat Bowel Cancer extend warm congratulations to Dr Engel at the Cabrini Monash University Department of Surgery as part of Cabrini Institute for the recognition of her highly regarded research.