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Gut reaction

Research at the University of Otago on immunisation in the gut promises more effective treatment for cancer patients.

Microbiology and Immunology senior lecturer, Dr Ros Kemp explains that the immune system in the gut is more tolerant than in other parts of the body, because it needs to protect bacteria that are necessary for food digestion, but this may compromise the immune system when dealing with cancer.

The research being undertaken by Kemp and her team* focuses on the complex differences between the immune system in healthy cells and tumour cells in the gut to predict the most effective treatment for individual patients.

As well as improving the prognosis for colorectal cancer patients, Kemp says she and her team are also investigating new immune cells, which should be useful for other researchers.

She acknowledges that the research would not be possible without the collaboration of surgeon Professor John McCall (Department of Surgical Sciences) and his many patients who agree to the use of their tumour and healthy bowel tissue samples.

Kemp notes that the research has a particular resonance for the Otago-Southland region, which has the highest per capital rate of colorectal cancer in the world.

Although the gut is a unique immune environment, she says that the research may well have applications for cancer treatment elsewhere in the body.

* Kemp's research team also comprises postgraduate students Dr Ed Taylor, Sam Norton, Kirsten Ward-Hartstonge, Shirley Shen, Ginny Niemi and Hamish Angus.

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