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New approach revolutionising ovarian cancer research

With ovarian cancer continuing to have a devastating outcome for many women, new research at the Kolling Institute is offering hope.

The disease has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer, with only 48 per cent of women living beyond five years after diagnosis.

Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late because the symptoms are vague, like bloating, nausea, indigestion, excessive tiredness, and a change in bowel habits, and unlike other cancers, there is no early diagnostic test.

Dr Emily Colvin from the Kolling says there is hope following some promising advances.

Her team has identified new genes involved in the spread of ovarian cancer, and they are now also focusing on the role of the tumour microenvironment, which provides the support network for the tumour cells to survive. 

“We have identified new genes that are switched on in these fibroblasts and influence ovarian tumour spread. These genes may play a role in how tumours avoid destruction by the immune system,” she said.

“We have been investigating the role of a specific cell in the ovarian tumour microenvironment called a cancer-associated fibroblast.

“Knowledge of the genes involved in the initiation of ovarian cancer will help us develop effective treatments.

“The microenvironment plays a huge role in how a patient will respond to therapy or develop resistance to drugs, or whether the cancer will metastasise, yet it has been largely ignored in ovarian cancer research.”

Researchers hope to understanding how cancer cells communicate with their microenvironment, we will be able to better target them.

Emily said trying to discover why the microenvironment in ovarian cancer is a bit different to other cancers and why it’s more resistant to immunotherapy.

“We are also keen to get started with liquid biopsy research. It’s radically replacing the need for tissue biopsy with blood tests that can tell us about a patient’s tumour. This has the potential to really change the way we treat all cancers, but particularly ovarian tumours,” she said.

“We would like to see more research funding and advocacy so that we can really change outcomes. We’ve seen that with breast cancer, but we just don’t get that type of funding for gynaecological cancers."

We hope that with greater support, we could accelerate the development of an early diagnostic test, which would save so many lives
Dr Emily Colvin

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