Ovarian Cancer

Every 11 hours one woman dies of ovarian cancer in Australia.

Approximately 1400 Australia women are diagnosed with the cancer each year, and nearly 800 die annually, making ovarian cancer the fourth most common cause of
cancer-related death in women in Australia. The high mortality rate in ovarian cancer patients results from the diagnosis of the disease at an advanced-stage. Devastatingly, the five-year survival period of ovarian patients has remained unchanged and as low as 40% for the last thirty years.

John Turner Professorial Cancer Research Fellow, Professor Nuzhat Ahmed and her team are studying how ovarian cancer patients become resistant to chemotherapy and is working to identify novel molecules which can be used in combination with chemotherapy to eradicate the resistant disease. This is being done by studying the protein profiles of tumour samples from patients before and after chemotherapy treatment. By identifying the proteins involved in chemo-resistance, we hope to develop therapies that will specifically target the pathway involved with chemo-resistance.

Professor Ahmed recently published results that have shown a new way to treat ovarian cancer. The latest publication in international journal Oncotarget, demonstrates that following chemotherapy treatment, there is an increase in ovarian cancer stem cells that express a unique that leads to the cancer not responding to current chemotherapy drugs. There are currently drugs available that may be used to block this pathway, therefore improving treatment success.

The pathway can be very active in some cancer cells, leading to uncontrolled growth. In the study an inhibitor drug was used, to block the growth of ovarian cancer cells in a mice model, leading to a significant reduction in the size of tumours. This is the first study to demonstrate a potential use of these readily available oral inhibitors in the treatment of chemo-resistant ovarian cancer and expands to further research.

The proposed treatment from this study is that patients are given an oral daily inhibitor drug following chemotherapy as a maintenance therapy. This reducing the development of ovarian cancer stem cells that are resistant to chemotherapy, significantly decreasing the incidence of recurrence and increasing survival periods in advanced stage patients. Human trials using chemotherapy mixed with the inhibitor drug may lead to better treatment outcomes in women.

The research has been conducted as part of the Institutes collaborative program with researchers from the Hudson Institute, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and the Melbourne University.

Group Leaders
  • Professor Nuzhat Ahmed
  • Professor George Kannourakis
Scientists
  • Dr. Dilys Leung
  • Elif Kadife
PhD Candidates
  • Farah Ahmady
  • Tamsin Wesley
  • Ruth Escalona