The Importance of Biobanks for Ovarian Cancer – Translational Cancer Research Study

27 February 2019

The study ‘HSA Biobank – from the lab to clinical trial’ is led by Associate Professor Caroline Ford, a member of Translational Cancer Research Network (TCRN).

Together with her team at the University of New South Wales’ Lowy Cancer Research Centre – they are working to improve outcomes for women with ovarian cancer.

Who is the study aiming to help?

“Our absolute aim is to conduct research that is going to have an impact on women with gynaecological cancers,” says A/Prof Ford.

Ovarian cancer ranks sixth in cancer deaths among women in NSW. Risk increases with age, with most cases diagnosed in women aged 50 years and over.

“They have such poor survival and limited opportunities for treatment.”

What is the current situation for women with ovarian cancer?

There is currently no early detection test for ovarian cancer, and the symptoms are not unique.

“The reality is three quarters of women that are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are diagnosed with stage three or four disease – their cancer has metastasised and spread,” A/Prof Ford explains.

“We need to be figuring out clever ways to target that process of metastasis, as well as developing an early-detection test for ovarian cancer.”

In addition, ovarian cancer consists of multiple diverse subtypes, which means not all cancers will respond to the same treatment.

“It’s crucial that we understand the heterogeneity of this disease, and target medicines appropriately”

What is the study doing?

A/Prof Ford is aiming to find new drug targets for women with ovarian cancer by understanding the molecular changes underpinning individual subtypes of the disease.

Her team are using the TCRN Flagship Health Science Alliance (HSA) Biobank to support research into the role of ROR– to 1 and ROR– to 2 – two genes implicated in ovarian and endometrial cancer.

“Over the last few years we've made a strong case that these two receptors ROR– to 1 and ROR– to 2 are viable therapeutic targets in ovarian cancer.

“We've shown in tissue samples that these receptors are widely expressed across subtypes of ovarian cancer, and in laboratory-based models that if we silence either of these receptors, or if we silence them together, we can effectively stop the cancer in its tracks.”

What next?

A/Prof Ford is now set to take her research through to a potential clinical trial in people with ovarian cancer.

“We’re now seeking grant opportunities or research funding to run this as an investigator-led trial.”

The trial will be a collaboration with Professor Thomas Kipps from the University of California, San Diego and pharmaceutical company Oncternal Therapeutics.

“The really wonderful thing is that the whole time we've been looking at these receptors in gynaecological cancers, there's been an incredible group in California who have been looking at them in blood cancers.”

“There's nothing more thrilling than thinking we might actually be able to see whether our hypothesis – whether these are good targets – is going to be proved or disproved.”

What is the role of TCRN?

A/Prof Caroline Ford has been a TCRN member since the research centre was first created.

“They have been a big part our work in ovarian cancer – they have supported me twice to go to conferences in America.

“It has been really important in order to forge those international collaborations, and really make sure what we're doing is at the forefront of this field.”

Story orginally published by the Cancer Institute NSW.