Glenn Family Foundation donation will boost liver cancer study at St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation's Microbiome Research Centre

Paving the way for a liver cancer-free future: Director of Microbiome Research Centre, Professor Emad El-Omar, Sir Owen Glenn and head of gastroenterology and hepatology at St George Hospital, Associate Professor Amany Zekry. Picture: Chris Lane
Paving the way for a liver cancer-free future: Director of Microbiome Research Centre, Professor Emad El-Omar, Sir Owen Glenn and head of gastroenterology and hepatology at St George Hospital, Associate Professor Amany Zekry. Picture: Chris Lane

The ultimate goal of saving more lives lost to liver cancer has become a promising reality, as a key medical research hub at Kogarah is given a solid boost.

St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation has received a major benefaction to deliver a study into the early detection of the disease.

Businessman and philanthropist, Sir Owen Glenn, has gifted the Australian-first ‘gut bug’ facility, the Microbiome Research Centre, $3 million across three years.

In what is the largest single private donation received by the foundation, this donation will fund a liver cancer study.

Research will target the prevention of primary liver cancer, but also aims to optimise treatment once the condition develops.

It will examine how the manipulation of intestinal bacteria may positively effect the body’s immunotherapy response to liver cancer. Studies were successfully performed on mice and their faecal matter.

The focus will be at the pre-cancer stage, where scientists hope to identify patients who are at risk of developing liver cancer by observing biomarkers in the blood.

It’s a collaborative effort, with assistance from main teaching hospitals, leading Australian universities, research institutes and international specialists.

The five year survival rate for liver cancer is 18 per cent. There is currently no screening for liver cancer available in Australia.​

Head of gastroenterology and hepatology at St George Hospital, Associate Professor Amany Zekry, is the chief investigator of the program.

She says results are expected within three years, and the findings will pave the way for human interventional trials. 

“What we are doing is discovery, and our preliminary results are promising,” she said.

“This gives oxygen to our research and will pave the way for bigger clinical trials where we can work towards getting from the laboratories to the patients.

“Traditionally this area is under-funded in Australia – it’s not on the national agenda; we are behind. We hope this sends a message to speed things up.”

Tour: Thanks to Sir Owen Glenn's donation, scientists will be able to establish and expand its liver cancer study at the Microbiome Research Centre.

Tour: Thanks to Sir Owen Glenn's donation, scientists will be able to establish and expand its liver cancer study at the Microbiome Research Centre.

For nearly 40 years, the Glenn Family Foundation has made significant donations supportive innovative projects in Australia and New Zealand, and throughout the Asia Pacific. 

Sir Owen Glenn, 78, who is having treatment for liver cancer himself, says he is privileged to support the foundation’s work.

“Where I can help, I help,” he said. “This is close to my liver and opposed to my heart.

“It’s something I feel I can contribute to immensely because it’s a debilitating disease.

“I was diagnosed eight years ago but I was recently told by a palm reader in India that I will live for another eight years, so I thought, I better get on with it.

“By investing in liver cancer research, I hope we can find better, more effective ways of treating this disease – and preventing it all together.

“This is a wonderful group of people who have the same determination and common purpose. The energy created by these minds is yet to collide and I hope this will get the best out of all of them.”

Foundation chief executive, Jacquie Stratford, says the generous gift has launched a world-class research program.

“The money will fund the salaries of key researchers, cover the costs of the studies, purchase key equipment and all the experiments needed to conclude a successful program,” she said.

“[It is] one that will deliver real progress in the fight against this global killer.”

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