PhD Candidate Profile: Nicole Yuwono

Nicole Yuwono

What is your research about?

Ovarian cancer is the most lethal out of the gynaecological cancers. Although the survival rate of Stage I ovarian cancer is as high as 92%, it is typically diagnosed at a later stage when the chance of surviving the disease has decreased to about 45%. Lack of- or non-specific- symptoms is one contributing factor to the late stage diagnosis, but the other is the lack of a robust diagnostic test to detect the disease accurately and promptly.

Our genetic material, DNA, is kept within the nucleus of our cells. However, fragments of that DNA also circulate freely in our blood and, in cancer, the amount of this circulating DNA is increased. Some of this DNA comes from the tumour itself and carries the same mutations as the tumour. Despite its potential usefulness in cancer diagnostic tests, very little is known about the biology of circulating DNA. My project aims to discover features of circulating DNA, both in healthy women and in ovarian cancer patients, that will elucidate where the DNA comes from and how it gets released to the circulation.

What is translational application of your research?

Since it is non-invasive for the patient and easy to obtain from blood samples, circulating DNA provides a very attractive target to be used in a diagnostic test. A better understanding of circulating DNA biology will facilitate the development of clinical applications that utilise it. Achieving my goals means that circulating DNA can be more effectively exploited in developing a sensitive and specific biomarker suitable for a blood-based ovarian cancer population screening test. Such a test is currently unavailable. An effective test applied in population screening would greatly improve patient outcomes, since tumours that are diagnosed before they have spread can be entirely removed by surgery, with no further treatment required. 

What is translational application of your research?

The funding provided will support my research and assist in acquiring reagents necessary for the laboratory component of my project. In addition, programs associated with the TCRN scholarship such as Cancer Roundtable and the various workshops available will greatly help in broadening my networking opportunities with both other scientists and clinicians in cancer research. The knowledge and potential collaborations gained from this program will be a very valuable asset towards the progress and the completion of my PhD. The TCRN would also provide the perfect platform if the research reaches the stage of translation into clinical practice.