Professor Anna De Fazio’s team investigated a rare and treatment-resistant subtype of ovarian cancer. By comparing the mutations that occur in this subtype to other cancers, the researchers are starting to identify new drugs that can be used to target this disease. Their approach has a better chance of predicting which treatments can help patients with this particular ovarian cancer subtype.
Each year, more than 1,300 Australian women are diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer. It is the most lethal gynaecological cancer and has a low five-year survival rate of just 43%.
For a long time all ovarian cancers have been treated with the same approach, but researchers are now starting to distinguish between subtypes of this cancer. It is vitally important to study the genes that drive these cancer subtypes, because they respond to treatment differently. For example, low-grade serous cancer is resistant to the usual chemotherapies used in ovarian cancer. Patients with this rare subtype are in urgent need of research that can pinpoint new treatment approaches.
Professor De Fazio and her team investigated the genes and mutations involved in the development of low-grade serous ovarian cancer, a rare subtype of the disease.
By analysing patient samples, the study found several gene mutations that occur in tumours of this particular subtype. The researchers compared these mutations with samples from other cancers and found similarities with melanoma.
Equipped with this knowledge, the team has effectively tested several drugs, which are normally used to treat melanoma, to inhibit gene mutations in patients with this rare ovarian cancer subtype.
Patients who have been treated with these drugs have shown profound responses, clearly demonstrating the need for identifying mutations in this subtype.
Advancing our knowledge of low-grade serous ovarian cancer will benefit women with this subtype. It can occur in young women and tends to be resistant to currently available treatments, leaving patients with very limited options. Using new knowledge on specific mutations, researchers can scan existing drug libraries for suitable treatments. This will make it possible to identify already approved drugs that can potentially benefit ovarian cancer patients.
Once such drugs are known, it is quicker and easier to test and approve these for ovarian cancer patients as well, speeding up the usually lengthy process involved in the development of new drug treatments.
This remarkable research opens new avenues for treatment options in patients with low-grade serous ovarian cancer. Future work will involve investigating different genes which drive this subtype and testing newly available treatments.