Diet and cancer

The importance of diet in the prevention of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer (also known as bowel cancer or colon cancer), is the focus of a long-term gastroenterology research program. Scientists are exploring how diet and lifestyle can help stabilise the genome and are investigating early biomarkers for planning dietary intervention.

The research involves both epithelial biology and cell biology signalling mechanisms and influences such as micronutrients, selenium, dietary fibre and bacteria.

Molecular-based diagnostics

Flinders researchers are using the very latest methodology in molecular biology to advance medical knowledge involving the gastrointestinal mucosa. A predominant interest is cancer of the colon and oesophagus, and the development of new diagnostics and biomarkers.

In a related program, the team is developing molecular-based diagnostic tests for colorectal adenomas. This cutting-edge research will enable the early detection of pre-cancer lesions and prevent cancers occurring. Flinders has strong links with Australian biotechnology company Clinical Genomics and with CSIRO for the development and commercialisation of the intellectual property.

Bowel cancer screening

Australia is a world-leader in screening for bowel cancer and Flinders researchers have a critical role in its success. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program was introduced in 2006 and our research team has been studying the short-term and longer term impact on individuals.

The study is examining the behavioural, technological and epidemiological aspects of screening to improve national surveillance and care. The SCOOP high-risk program has over 5000 people registered to assess genetic risks and trial new ways of patient management. This program is leading to publications in high-impact journals.

New treatments

Clinical research teams are evaluating new and better treatments for a range of conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease and viral hepatitis. The department also has competitive research grants for a pilot trial of chronic disease management for patients with liver failure.

In other research, our scientists are investigating why many genes that are important for cell function and identity are dysregulated during cancer initiation and progression. We are also examining the role that lack of oxygen has on gene expression in advanced tumours.

Acute diarrhoea in children

Flinders has a key role in a global project to save 1.5 million children dying each year from acute diarrhoea in developing countries. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided a multi-million dollar grant for a research program headed by the university’s Professor Graeme Young.

Clinical trials are testing an exciting new treatment developed by the Flinders team in collaboration with colleagues in the US and India as well as with the agricultural industry, which uses resistant starch to promote large bowel absorption of fluid and electrolytes for the rehydration of sick children.

Swallowing disorders

Difficulties with swallowing impede nutritional intake among older people and those with neurological disorders, such as stroke, motor neurone disease and Parkinson's disease. The gastroenterology team has a longstanding interest in the mechanisms responsible for dysphagia, using modalities such as fluoroscopy and manometry for comprehensive investigations of deglutition.

A multidisciplinary approach fostered by the department’s Swallowing Disorders Unit has enabled successful research and teaching collaboration between gastroenterologists and speech pathologists. A major focus is the impact of age and degenerative illnesses on the integrity of swallowing in patients and novel approaches to therapy.


Phone: +61 8 8204 4964