PhD Candidate Profile: Bonnie Werner

14 December 2020
Bonnie Werner photo

What is your research about?

My research focusses on patients with ovarian cancer who develop ascites, a build-up of fluid in their abdomen, as a comorbidity of their cancer. Ascites fluid contains cells and cell-free DNA derived from the tumour, providing a unique insight into a patient’s cancer which may otherwise have not been obtainable without multiple invasive biopsies. We have found that the tumour-derived cell-free DNA, which can be isolated from the ascites fluid, is in high quantities and represents a comprehensive snapshot of DNA profiles of the heterogeneous cancer cells. We propose that the accessibility and abundance of this material recognises it as a prime candidate for analysis with the goal to identify personalised therapy regimes. This project aims to collect ascites from patients with ovarian cancer and to predict their response to a panel of drugs, based on findings from epigenetic changes in cell-free DNA suspended in the ascites fluid. To validate our findings, we will test the drugs on cancer cells collected from the fluid and grown into personalised, patient-derived disease avatars.

What is the translational application of your research?

I am are interested to know if this fluid, which is drained as standard patient care, can be used to provide additional genetic information to assist clinicians in selecting personalised treatment regimes in a non-invasive manner. Many patients with ovarian cancer become resistant to the standard chemotherapy and have limited options when they relapse. By providing an additional avenue for genetic insight, we may increase the pool of treatment options to be considered for each individual patient, including repurposed therapies. Not only will this help patients to receive the best possible treatment tailored to them, but it may also help to inform which patients should be included in clinical trials. This will provide novel therapies the best possible chance to demonstrate their potential and become approved, so that patients with ovarian cancer have a widened range of drugs to choose from in the future.

How would the TCRN PhD top-up Scholarship help you succeed?

A TCRN scholarship would remarkably help me to achieve success by providing support and reducing financial stress, allowing me to properly focus on my research goals. The career development training and networking opportunities provided by the TCRN will allow me to share ideas with other researchers and be steered in the right direction, so that my research can reach its full potential and have real translational impacts.