University of Nottingham: Nottingham and Indonesian scientists and politicians work together to tackle colon cancer

Experts from the University of Nottingham have been working with researchers in Indonesia to tackle colon cancer, which affects three times as many young people in the country than in the UK.

Every year, more than 35,000 cases of colorectal cancer (CRC) occur in Indonesia. Around 35% of CRC are in patients younger than 50. They have a poorer outcome, and many cases may be inherited. Management of CRC is by surgery, but around 90% will also require chemotherapy. Precision treatment in these cases is vital to improve survival rates.

Dr Susanti Susanti and Professor Mohammed Ilyas from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham established the Nottingham-Indonesia Collaboration for Clinical Research and Training (NICCRAT) in 2019, with the aim of developing partnerships with several Indonesian research institutions, to help improve the treatment of CRC and beyond.

Since then, the group has grown and now includes several different research groups within the University, which are now working with various organisations across Indonesia including charities, policy makers and the Government to help educate and inform research and healthcare across the country.

Dr Susanti, who is originally from Central Java, Indonesia, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2014 aged 30. After extensive treatment and a long recovery, she became determined to answer why there are more and more young people suffering at a young age, particularly in her home country.

Dr Susanti
She said: As a cancer researcher, I have unique insight as a cancer survivor myself. At the age of 30, I was diagnosed with stage three colorectal cancer and had to go through several surgeries and chemotherapy at hospitals in Indonesia. My experience of cancer has given me important perspectives into the field allowing me to form research and development strategies that are particularly relevant for patients and those living beyond cancer.

“I’m passionate about improving equal access to cancer care in countries with limited resources by driving forward low-cost diagnostic and treatment options. More importantly, through my experiences as a researcher and survivor, I want to advocate, raise awareness and spread optimism and a positive attitude, particularly among my fellow cancer patients and those living beyond the disease.

“With molecular diagnostics, colon cancer patients can be helped to get the appropriate treatment for their condition. Moreover, if it’s hereditary, other family members can also get genetic screening and early detection for prevention.”

With this in mind, Dr Susanti has recently set up PathGen – an Indonesian-based start-up company, funded by the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and supported by NICCRAT. PathGen is currently developing a low-cost genetic test kit for CRC in collaboration with Bio Farma (Indonesia government-owned biotech company).

Among the many other successes already achieved, with support from other members of NICCRAT, Prof Ilyas secured Newton Fund Institutional Link project in improving the clinical outcome of colorectal cancer in Indonesia through implementation of molecular diagnostics.

The project enabled the participation of 110 Indonesian researchers, academics, and clinicians in the Nottingham Molecular and Image Analysis Training School (MDTS & IATS) in 2019 and 2020 as well as Nottingham Gastrointestinal Pathology Masterclass in 2021.

Most recently, the team hosted an in-depth discussion event, titled “Indonesian day: Developing Molecular Diagnostics in Indonesia” as a special add-on for the yearly MDTS & IATS in 2021attended by over 100 Indonesian delegates, in collaboration with the Indonesian Embassy in London.

Dr. Desra Percaya – the HE Indonesian Ambassador for UK, Ireland and IMO, said: “I find the initiatives by NICCRAT are pertinent in showcasing the diaspora concrete contributions as well as demonstrating the commitment from various institution from both UK and Indonesia including academia, governments and private sectors in supporting impactful collaboration to achieve more accessible cancer diagnostics and management.”

Prof Ilyas said “I was delighted when I learned that the Indonesian embassy were willing to host NICCRAT’s “Indonesian Day” event. The breadth of participation in the event shows that colorectal cancer is a major problem in Indonesia and that the only way forward is for the various parties to collaborate to tackle this issue. Through NICCRAT we have been able to engage with a wide range of researchers and we aim to expand the areas of activity go beyond just colorectal cancer!”

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