Zoe Welham developed an interest in bowel cancer while she was working on a complex scientific research project in graduate school.

“The goal was to look at bowel cancer in a holistic way by taking information from genes, microbes and epigenetic data,” Zoe said.
As the inaugural PhD recipient of The Penn Foundation Scholarship at The University of Sydney, Zoe will now be able to build on that analysis under the supervision of the Lawrence Penn Chair of Bowel Cancer Research, Professor Mark Molloy.
Zoe will compare the microbiomes of polyps at different risk levels for developing bowel cancer, to better understand how the gut microbiome influences the growth of bowel polyps.

She will also investigate the metabolites these microbes produce (such as butyrate, which is thought to be an important energy source for colon epithelia), to see how they correlate with polyp risk.

She will then study ways to integrate this data with other molecular features and with the patient’s medical history.

Through her research, Zoe aims to provide valuable new knowledge regarding the biological rules that govern bowel polyp growth – something which is still not fully understood.

“The gut microbiome is interesting because of how it appears to play a role in a wide range of health issues, from food metabolism, to interacting with our immune system, and even influencing neurological traits,” said Zoe.

“Humans enjoy a symbiotic relationship with our bugs."

“We provide food and they help with food digestion and provide molecules that influence many of our body processes."

“I also find it interesting that, unlike our genes, we can control what bugs make up our microbiomes to some an extent – simply by changing our diets."

“For example, research suggests that people with high meat intake have different ratios of gut bacteria to people who eat less meat."

“This is interesting, given excess red meat consumption is a risk factor for bowel cancer.”

Zoe hopes her work will ultimately lead to a reduction in bowel cancer.

The Lawrence Penn Chair of Bowel Cancer Research

Researching a cure for Australia's second deadliest cancer received a major boost recently with $10.4 million to establish the inaugural Lawrence Penn Chair of Bowel Cancer Research at the University of Sydney, launched in May 2018.

Contributing $6.4 million, Bowel Cancer Australia’s funding expanded Australia's research capacity and supported by additional funds of $4 million available to advance research into bowel cancer, the Chair will be a game changer for bowel cancer research in this country. 

While screening can help with early detection, it won't eliminate bowel cancer. Research is the only way to discover a cure.

The Lawrence Penn Chair of Bowel Cancer Research is named after one of Australia's oldest bowel cancer survivors and is based at the University of Sydney's Northern Clinical School, Royal North Shore Hospital’s Campus.

An endowed professorial chair is recognised as a University's finest scholar in their field of expertise. They provide a research focal point in the country they are located, helping to attract and retain the brightest researchers and spur colleagues to their finest efforts - benefiting the entire Australian community.

Professor Mark Molloy is a biochemist and has developed his expertise in the science of 'proteomics'. He is internationally recognised as an expert in the application of mass spectrometry in biomedical research. Professor Molloy’s focus areas are in translational cancer research, biomarker studies and cell signalling.

The commencement of Professor Molloy as the Lawrence Penn Chair of Bowel Cancer Research is the culmination of many years of hard work