Research Programmes

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust Research Programmes

We partnered with a number of leading clinicians, institutions and academics across New Zealand to help with research in to improve outcomes to all bowel cancer patients across New Zealand. Some examples of where we focused...
  1. Earlier screening of patients
  2. Help develop new and more effective treatments for bowel cancer
  3. Ensure patients get rehabilitated in the most effective way

Through strategic investment in targeted research, we helped deliver improvements in bowel cancer survival.

Below is a summary of the Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust research programmes.

Kiwi Medical Detection Dogs

This is Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust's very own research trial using medical detection dogs to sniff out early stage bowel cancer in urine. The first research of its kind in the world. Dogs are known to detect bowel cancer in faeces but that brings up a whole raft of issues including detecting blood based Crohn's, Colitis, Piles etc. We wanted to create something that would detect bowel cancer early and push those patients more likely to have bowel cancer, to the front of the colonoscopy wait list.

Georgina Mason, our charity CEO, contacted Pauline Blomfield from K9 Medical Detection NZ with over 40 years of canine training, to work together to create a test that would actually work. Georgina fundraised over $1 million to kickstart this project, working alongside The Lindsay Foundation, The University of Otago, Oncologists, researchers, The Ministry of Health and Cancer Control Agency and the Media to ensure this research continued where it would make a difference.

Click here to see Georgina's Interview on TV One News

Did you know that cancers give off a specific odour that genetically trained working dogs can detect in elements such as urine, faeces, blood and breath?
A dog’s sense of smell is so strong that it can detect the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools of water.

Levi - the 20-month-old German Shepherd helping to detect bowel cancer and save lives

Levi has come from a genetically bred working line with a dad that is a very famous police dog in Denmark.

With the establishment of a new South Island training centre, a full-time professional dog handler and Levi, the trial was undertaken by the K9 Medical Detection NZ Charitable Trust with the help of scientists at Otago University.

Levi took around a year to train to detect various concentration levels of bowel cancer in saline samples followed by a second study in which he was trained and tested in his ability to detect bowel cancer in lab grown urine.​ Levi is now been given the go ahead to train using human urine (2023).

Levi in his "training outfit"

Our Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust CEO, Georgina Mason says that a successful trial could provide a ‘significant breakthrough’ as more extensive screening is ‘badly needed’ and could pave the way to thousands more early detections.

Overseas studies have found evidence of urinary biomarkers in bowel cancer patients which we’re expecting the dogs to be able to pick up in our early-stage detection trial.

Bowel Cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in New Zealand with around 3,000 people diagnosed with it, and 1,200 dying from it, every year.

Up to 90% of people can be saved if bowel cancer is detected early enough – but the existing National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is currently only available for 60–74-year-olds and probably won’t be available in all District Health Board areas in New Zealand until 2021.

Even when the screening programme is fully rolled out it is only expected to detect between 500 and 700 cases of bowel cancer a year – this age group currently only accounts for around 36% of the cases of bowel cancer which are registered annually with the Ministry of Health.

Georgina Mason was asked to be interviewed on TV One's Breakfast in late 2019. Click here to see the interview which was 6-minutes long.

Ms Mason says that more people could be saved if we can help prioritise those who need urgent treatment.

A large number of people with a positive FIT (faecal immune) test or home bowel screening test, don’t have cancer or high-risk polyps which means that this test will enable us to make better use of resources by prioritising those patients that would more likely have bowel cancer and need urgent treatment.

This early non-invasive test could also be useful for applications outside of the screening programme to exclude bowel cancer in patients who present with non- specific symptoms or who are under the age of screening and free up our struggling workforce.

We are extremely grateful to the Lindsay Foundation who have funded the first half of this trial. Their love of animals and desire to make an impact in Health has made them a perfect fit for our research programme.

Familial Bowel Cancer and "Prehabilitation" Research

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust collaborated with Auckland Health Foundation on two significant pieces of bowel cancer research.

Both pieces of research was delivered under the expertise of Auckland DHB, which is the sole beneficiary of the Auckland Health Foundation. Through donations, the foundation supports projects, research and technologies for adult health services, which have the capacity to transform healthcare and the way it is delivered within Auckland DHB.

Auckland Health Foundation CEO Gwen Green was grateful to be working with the Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust to bring these world-leading research pieces to fruition.

#1. Familial Bowel Cancer Research:

The first piece of research was around familial bowel cancer. It seeks to define an individual’s bowel cancer risk by looking at their family history of the disease, determining if they carry an inherited gene mutation that increases their risk, and therefore improving treatment strategies and outcomes.

Up to 20% of people who develop bowel cancer will have a relative with the disease, and with 90% of bowel cancers preventable if caught early enough, this piece of research has the potential to deliver a breakthrough in increasing patient survival rates.

Picture of Georgina handing over the cheque, from left to right: Gwen Green, National Medical Lead of the NZ Familial Gastrointestinal Service Associate Professor, Susan Parry, and Georgina Mason

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust CEO/Founder Georgina Mason says it is exciting for New Zealand to lead this potentially ground-breaking research.

“We know that if detected early, bowel cancer can be successfully treated. By better understanding people’s risk of the disease, we can ensure those most at risk receive appropriate care, such as tailored advice and regular screening.”

#2. "Prehabilitation" Impacts:

The second piece of research was around bowel cancer rehabilitation, or more specifically “prehabilitation. ” This involves goal setting, exercise training and education before bowel cancer surgery.

Through initiating the earliest possible intervention, the research aims to improve and speed up the recovery of all bowel cancer patients by exploring the impact prehabilitation can have.

Evidence suggests that physical activity following a bowel cancer diagnosis improves both cancer-specific and overall survival. Further benefits could include reducing postoperative complications and increasing a patient’s motivation and engagement in post-op rehabilitation, therefore improving their quality of life.

This research will ensure we better understand the role of prehabilitation, as we ultimately work towards developing a framework for providing both pre and post-rehabilitation services for all bowel cancer patients throughout New Zealand, enabling them to participate in specially-designed pre and post-rehab programmes.

Picture of Georgina handing over the cheque, from left to right, Georgina Mason, Gwen Green, National Medical Lead of the NZ Familial Gastrointestinal Service Associate Professor, Joe Monkhouse, Auckland DHB Allied Health Service Clinical Director Joe Monkhouse

Through our donors, we supported research projects that benefit patients and communities, but could not be developed without external investment and generous donations like this one.

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust was excited to collaborate with Auckland DHB clinicians, including the National Medical Lead of the NZ Familial Gastrointestinal Service Associate Professor Susan Parry and Surgical Services Director Dr Arend Merrie, who will lead these hugely important pieces of research.

Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust forwarded this piece of research to the CEO of the Cancer Control Agency in the hope it would be used in a DHB setting as was intended.

Ms Mason adds:

“It is so important to shine the spotlight on this disease, which more than 3,200 New Zealanders are diagnosed with each year."
"Having the precursors to bowel cancer myself, and being treated by Auckland DHB under the care of Professor Parry and Dr Merrie, I know first-hand the importance of research to help more patients have better outcomes like mine.”
With heartfelt thanks to the Colin McGill Estate for this generous donation which has enabled us to provide this much-needed research.

Charity Achievements

Key Milestones reached by Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust team.


Dollars distributed to help fund vital research and providing better patient outcomes


Bowel cancer survivors rehabilitated after gruelling treatment helping to reduce cancer re-occurrence


Bowel screening kits provided to Kiwi’s who do not qualify for free public screening to detect bowel cancer early


Loving families kept together for longer with help for immunotherapy treatments that help reduce tumours