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A major liver cancer research program, led by Australia’s first Microbiome Research Centre, has received a $3 million grant from philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn.

The program will study the links between gut health and liver cancer, optimising treatment options and examining the possible impact of the microbiome on the body’s immunotherapy response to cancer.

The Microbiome Research Centre is a collaboration between the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation, UNSW Sydney and the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District.

The MRC is located at UNSW Medicine's St George & Sutherland Clinical School, based at St George Hospital. Led by UNSW Professor of Medicine Emad El-Omar, the Centre brings together scientists and clinicians on one campus to support research programs to examine the microbiome’s impact on obesity, diabetes, foetal health, allergies and cancer. 

“By investing in liver cancer research, I hope we can find better, more effective ways of treating this disease – and preventing it all together,” said Sir Owen, one of New Zealand's most successful entrepreneurs who has donated millions to charitable causes around the world. Sir Owen was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2012 and has since undergone treatment.


Sir Owen Glenn meeting researchers at the St George and Sutherland Clinical School.

The research program, which will run over three years, will be led by UNSW Medicine’s Associate Professor Amany Zekry.

“At the pre-cancer stage, the results will have key preventative implications in terms of earlier identification of patients at risk of developing liver cancer,” says Associate Professor Zekry.

“We are currently examining the interaction between the microbiome, its metabolites and immune and inflammatory responses. Based on the results, we plan to run pre-clinical interventional studies to examine the role of gut microbiome manipulation on reducing the risk of liver damage and liver cancer development,” she says.

“To strengthen the program, Professor El Omar has facilitated establishing national and international collaborations with experts in the field.”

Dean of Medicine at UNSW, Professor Rodney Phillips, said: “The research undertaken by UNSW Medicine’s clinical academics at the MRC, led by Professor Emad El Omar, is truly world-class. We are committed to ensuring such generous investment in our cancer research delivers real impact within the community.”

Ms Jacquie Stratford, CEO of the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation, said Sir Owen’s gift was the largest single private donation the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation have received.