Cancer presents as a major public health crisis worldwide with colorectal cancer (CRC) being one of the most common cancers among men and women. It is responsible for 9.4% of deaths worldwide and is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer. 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) is a chemotherapeutic agent commonly used in the treatment of various cancers and is the treatment of choice for CRC. Although there are numerous strategies in action to fight CRC, none are capable of completely destroying this disease. The reasoning behind this is the fact that these strategies have limitations which lead to drug resistance and adverse effects on normal cells. Therefore, novel therapeutic options are consistently needed to improve cancer therapy and overcome current challenges. In recent times, the use of natural sources has become a popular concept worldwide. Natural products (NPs) show more favourable behaviour when compared to synthetic molecules, due to their biological properties. Recent studies linked the intake of garlic with a protective effect on a wide range of cancers, concluding that the health benefits of raw garlic are worth looking in to. Therefore, this review will investigate the possible relationship between administering garlic in combination with 5-FU and the effect thereof in colon cancer patients.
Investigating the effects of chemotherapeutic agents, Doxorubicin and Paclitaxel, in combination with Dodonaea viscosa on breast cancer.
Janke van Eck, MSc student. Email: email@example.com
To this day, breast cancer remains a detrimental health burden being the most frequently diagnosed malignancy in women worldwide. Currently, conventional chemotherapeutic agents such as Doxorubicin (DXR) and Paclitaxel (PXT) are used to treat breast cancer patients. However, its use is associated with severe adverse effects, cardiotoxicity, and chemoresistance. Therefore, an urgent need for novel treatment regimens which are effective in inducing cancer cell cytotoxicity – paired with little adverse effects – has emerged. The field of phytotherapy has spiked considerable interest as a possible treatment avenue, with the hopes of improving clinical outcomes for cancer patients. Studies has linked Dodonaea viscosa with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, the cytotoxic effects associated with D. viscosa could prove useful in promoting cell death in various cancers, raising the question whether combining conventional chemotherapies with phytotherapies could increase the efficacy of cancer treatment. Therefore, my project aims to investigate DXR and PXT in combination with D. viscosa and the effects thereof on breast cancer.
Investigating the effects of chemotherapy on metastasis in cervical cancer using a personalized medicine approach.
Cayleigh de Sousa, MSc student. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cancer cells are known for their aggressive nature and ability to spread rapidly around the body. Therefore, it is important to find new and improved ways to try and limit or even prevent this spreading from occurring. My research focuses on investigating the potential for various chemotherapeutic drugs to prevent the spreading of cervical cancer cells from their original tumour site, to form distant secondary tumour sites around the body. In addition, a personalized medicine approach will be utilized with its main objective being to develop a patient-specific treatment plan in an attempt to avoid the possibility of treatment resistance and recurrence within cancer patients.
Investigating the effects of chemotherapy on metastasis in ovarian and endometrial cancer patients.
Madré Meyer, MSc student. Email: email@example.com
The main focus for my master's project is studying gynaecological cancers and utilising a personalized medicine approach to potentially treat this heterogenous disease. Gynaecological cancers typically include cancer of the cervix, endometrium, and ovaries. For the purpose of my study, I shall be focusing on endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer. Better knowledge of ovarian and endometrial cancer disease progression and responses to treatment are necessary in order to develop better biomarkers and novel therapeutic approaches. One such novel approach, is personalized medicine, which uses an individual's genetic profile to guide medical decision making for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases. Based on literature, generic treatment approaches for gynaecological cancers such as ovarian and endometrial cancer are ineffective in preventing treatment resistance, cancer recurrence and metastasis. Therefore, personalized medicine approaches could be beneficial to ultimately improve the prognosis of these patients and to prevent the onset of treatment resistance. The proposed study is therefore designed to examine individual patients' molecular and genetic profiles to improve cancer treatment resistance, prevent metastasis and to ultimately reduce mortality.
The functional effects of a rare TP53 germline variant on the prognostic plasma cytokine and clotting parameters in breast cancer patients.
Enrico Binneman, MPhil (Cancer Science) student. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My research project forms part of a functional study to determine the classification of a rare tumour suppressor protein 53 (TP53) variant identified for the first time in the germline DNA of breast cancer patients. My project involves the assessment of the variant's involvement in the coagulation cascade, inflammatory response and response to various antineoplastic agents used to combat breast cancer. Clotting and viscoelastic parameters of the patient's blood plasma are assessed using Thromboelastography (TEG) to determine whether the variant's involvement in blood coagulation results in hypercoagulability, hypocoagulability or has no effect on the clotting of the patients. The inflammatory response will be assessed by measuring circulating pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines in the patient's plasma. The above-mentioned assessments are performed due to its potential critical role in disease progression, symptom severity and response to antineoplastic agents utilised to combat cancer. Lastly, conventional chemotherapeutic agents used for breast cancer, such as etoposide, doxorubicin, paclitaxel and 5-flurouracil will be used to assess their efficacy on the isolated peripheral blood mononuclear cells of these patients to determine the effects of this variant on drug response.
Investigating the relationship between Covid-19 and cancer initiation, progression and metastasis.
Kayla Field, Honours student. Email: email@example.com
Following the recent Covid-19 pandemic and the rising global incidence of long covid, many studies have elucidated the pathogenesis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection include systemic inflammatory activation and a so-called cytokine storm, an excessive immune response characterised by the upregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines. The inflammatory profile seen during Covid-19 infection may promote the initiation, progression and metastasis of cancer. My honours project, therefore, aims to investigate the effect of the SARS-CoV-2 on breast cancer cells. A key aim of the study is to evaluate the inflammatory profile of breast cancer cells exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Thus, the proposed study is designed to address the lack of information regarding the role of the systemic immune response of Covid-19 in mediating the immune-related tumour microenvironment and tumour progression.
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Van Niekerk G., Christowitz C., Conradie D., Engelbrecht A-M. 2020. Insulin as an immunomodulatory hormone. Cytokine & Growth Factor Reviews, 52:34-44. DOI: 10.1016/j.cytogfr.2019.11.006.
Du Plessis M., Fourie C., Riedemann J., De Villiers W.J.S., Engelbrecht A-M. 2021. Cancer and Covid-19: Collectively catastrophic. Cytokine and Growth Factor Reviews, 63:78-89. DOI: 10.1016/j.cytogfr.2021.10.005.
Van der Merwe M., Van Niekerk G., Fourie C., Du Plessis M., Engelbrecht A-M. 2021. The impact of mitochondria on cancer treatment resistance. Cell Oncology, 44(5):983-995. DOI: 10.1007/s13402-021-00623-y.
Van der Merwe M., Van Niekerk G., Botha A., Engelbrecht A-M. 2021. The onco-immunological implications of Fusobacterium nucleatum in breast cancer. Immunology Letters, 232:60-66. DOI: 10.1016/j.imlet.2021.02.007.
Van Niekerk G., Van der Merwe M., Engelbrecht A-M. 2021. Diabetes and susceptibility to infections: Implication for COVID-19. Immunology, 164(3):467-475. DOI: 10.1111/imm.13383.
Van Niekerk G., Christowitz C., Engelbrecht A-M. 2021. Insulin-mediated immune dysfunction in the development of preeclampsia. Journal of Molecular Medicine, 99:889-897. DOI: 10.1007/s00109-021-02068-0.
Fourie C., Du Plessis M., Mills J., Engelbrecht A-M. 2022. The effect of HIF-1α inhibition in breast cancer cells prior to doxorubicin treatment under conditions of normoxia and hypoxia. Experimental Cell Research, 419 (2):113334. DOI: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2022.113334.
Sedeman M., Christowitz C., De Jager L., Engelbrecht A-M. 2022. Obese mammary tumour-bearing mice are highly sensitive to doxorubicin-induced hepatotoxicity. BMC Cancer, 22(240): 1-15. DOI: 10.1186/s12885-022-10189-z.
Du Plessis M., Fourie C., Stone W., Engelbrecht A-M. 2023. The impact of endocrine disrupting compounds and carcinogens in wastewater: Implication for breast cancer. Biochimie, 209:103-115. DOI: 10.1016/j.biochi.2023.02.006.