Conference and Professional Development Grant Profile: Dr Caroline Ford

29 June 2016
TCRN Member Dr Caroline Ford

TCRN funding coupled with attendance at one of the biggest cancer conferences in the world drew Dr Caroline Ford, a researcher in the Adult Cancer Program at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre at UNSW, to New Orleans earlier this year. 

Dr Ford, whose research is focused on ovarian cancer, received a TCRN Conference and Professional Development Grant to attend the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research ("AACR") meeting in April.

Here, she presented the findings of some significant breakthroughs she and her research team have achieved in trying to understand the way that ovarian cancer spreads.

“Our research is trying to understand which genes and signalling pathways control the spread of ovarian cancer,” Dr Ford said.

“We wanted to go to the conference because we’re at a very exciting stage of our research. We’ve identified two interesting receptor molecules, which are called ROR1 and ROR2".

“We’ve previously shown that they are overexpressed or abnormally turned on in ovarian cancer patient tissue, but what we’ve now shown is that when we silence those receptors in the laboratory, either individually or most excitingly, together, we can drastically inhibit ovarian cancer cell migration and invasion.”

The AACR conference was an obvious choice for Dr Ford, not least because of guidelines specifying that all research presented at the meeting must be unpublished. 

Dr Caroline Ford, UNSW

“Unlike other meetings where sometimes people are presenting very old data that you’ve read about many years before, this is the best opportunity to go and hear the latest results of clinical trials, the latest lab-based results, before it comes out in journal articles,” Dr Ford said.

“It’s a very broad conference, covering all cancer types. For someone like me who works in a specific area of gynaecological cancer but is investigating mechanisms of cancer spread and drug resistance, it’s really nice to go to talks from people in other different types of cancer and learn from their approaches.”

In addition to attending the conference, which welcomed approximately 20,000 delegates, Dr Ford also took the opportunity to advance an existing research relationship with the University of Chicago as part of her trip.

The University of Chicago is home to one of the world’s leading gynaecological cancer laboratories, and to an innovative 3D model of ovarian cancer that allows researchers to observe the impact of their research on cancer cells within a micro-environment.

“It’s a co-culture model incorporating an extracellular matrix, so it’s really about trying to recapitulate what happens in a woman’s body when the ovarian cancer grows and spreads,” Dr Ford said.

The purpose of the trip was to learn how to set up a similar model back home in Sydney, which Dr Ford and her team will now use with tumour samples collected from the Royal Hospital for Women as part of the HSA Biobank; Dr Ford presented the findings of some significant breakthroughs she and her research team have achieved in trying to understand the way that ovarian cancer spreads.

“Essentially we want to see if our data to date holds true in a more complex but relevant model, so we’ll silence our receptors within this system, and try to investigate whether it still has an effect on migration and invasion and proliferation,” she said.  

Grant snapshot: 

Conference: AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) Meeting 2016
Location: New Orleans, LA, USA
Funding Round: Round 2, 2016

Caroline Ford is a member of the Lowy Cancer Research Centre (Wet) member group.

View list of TCRN Conference and Professional Development grant recipients