PROTEINS creating chemotherapy resistance in ovarian cancer patients could soon be blocked under work from Ballarat researchers. They are gradually finding paths for the immune system to attack cancer, giving women a better chance of fighting the disease and for longer.
About 1400 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, most in advanced stages, due to the seemingly silent symptoms. The five-year survival rate for women with ovarian cancer in Australia is 43 per cent, compared to 90 per cent for those diagnosed with breast cancer.
Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute’s ovarian cancer study lead Nuzhat Ahmed said the major hurdle for women with ovarian cancer was in developing chemotherapy resistance early on in their treatment.
Professor Ahmed’s team has taken a multi-pronged approach to understanding the mechanisms and molecules in chemotherapy resistance between responsive and non-responsive cancer cells.
Using different models, the FECRI team has shown using chemotherapy with available inhibitor drugs could slow resistance in treatment response and increase survival in advance-stage patients.
The next major step would be to take this to clinical trials.
FECRI continues to collaborate with research teams around the world, including in Melbourne, Seattle and New York on new ways to treat ovarian cancer.
New ways include working with molecules that could block the metabolism of ovarian cancer cells, which appear to have a higher energy production, and instead steer cancer cells to respond more to chemotherapy.
“In science you can’t look at the problem taking a single, simple view. You have to take a holistic approach,” Professor Ahmed said. “You have to combine different matters, different technology – because human system is very complex – to understand what is really going on.”
Professor Ahmed said anything researchers could find to improve quality of life, was a good find.
Unity in fighting this silent killer
FIONA Elsey Cancer Research Institute’s ovarian cancer specialists are an all-female team, by coincidence. Postdoctoral fellow Elif Kadife and PhD student Farah Ahmady say part of what drives their work is trying to break down such a big cancer killer and help the international sisterhood combat the female-specific disease.
FECRI’s ovarian cancer team, led by Professor Nuzhat Ahmed, is eight women strong and includes five PhD students with another recruit on the way.
Their internationally-acclaimed work is finding new ways to tackle what is known as a silent killer. Key symptoms are unexplained bloating, discomfort in the pelvic region, pain during intercourse and bleeding.
FECRI director George Kannourakis said this is what makes ovarian cancer so deadly: too often it silently invades around the bowel and is not detected until in advanced stages.
Treatment typically involves surgery to remove the bulk of the cancer mass, the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries with chemotherapy to mop up.
Only, ovarian cancer has a poor treatment record and, despite many patients initially responding well to chemotherapy, most patients relapse with almost 60 per cent dying within five years.
Professor Kannourakis, who is also an oncologist, said this resistance kills women because there are no real options aside from chemotherapy.
He said targeted approaches, like what the FECRI team is proposing, will likely be the new way forward in treatment.
The other way was immunotherapy, previously been a big player in ovarian cancer treatment.
- READ MORE: Researchers getting into gear for big ride
FECRI receives no government funding. Its major fundraiser Ballarat Cycle Classic, is on February 17: ballaratcycleclassic.com.au.
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