Historic funding boost for Queensland’s fight against ovarian cancer

Developing early and improved diagnostic tests to lift ovarian cancer survival rates are the focus of two research projects commencing at The University of Queensland.

UQ scientists Associate Professor Paul Thomas and Professors John Hooper and Trent Munro, will test a new agent measuring its suitability in fighting epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), in the first study of its kind in humans.

EOC is the most common type of ovarian tumour that develops in the lining of the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Professor Thomas said while EOC generally responded to initial treatments, the disease eventually progressed in most patients, and narrowed their options for symptom management and remission.

“By administering this new agent, we will attach a tracer to the ovarian cancer cells, which is expected to make detection of the disease easier during radiology scans, similar to what is currently performed with prostate cancer diagnosis,” Professor Thomas said.

Late diagnosis and treatment continue to be the biggest challenges facing ovarian cancer patients with 1510 Australian women diagnosed with the disease, and 1046 deaths reported in 2019.

Professor Trent Munro said improved tracking of ovarian cancer may lead to new treatment options for EOC and guide future interventional clinical trials.

“The trial is being conducted at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital Nuclear Medicine Department with the support of Associate Professor Lewis Perrin’s Gynaecological Oncology unit at the Mater Hospital,” Professor Munro said.

“It will utilise the advanced biomanufacturing capabilities of the NCRIS National Biologics Facility at the AIBN, CSIRO facilities and the Queensland Health radio-pharmacy laboratory.”

In a separate study at the UQ Centre for Clinical Research (UQCCR), Dr Carlos Salomon Gallo and his team will focus on circulating tumour markers encapsulated in small extracellular vesicles called exosomes, which mediate signalling between cells, to improve early ovarian cancer diagnostics.

Dr Salomon Gallo said his study will deliver an aid for earlier and more accurate diagnosis of epithelial ovarian cancer and will be better able to monitor responses to treatment compared with current methods.

“Some progress has been made in improving health outcomes for ovarian cancer patients over the past 20 years, but survival rates still remain around 35 per cent globally,” Dr Salomon Gallo said.

“This study will be conducted in collaboration with Dr Amirali Popat from the UQ School of Pharmacy, Professor Yusuke Yamauchi from the UQ Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) and Professor Gregory Rice from UQCCR.

“We hope that it will lead to personalised treatments being delivered earlier to patients and improve survival rates by using a novel system that mimics the biological processes and structures of the body.”

Dr Salomon Gallo´s project will be developed at the UQ Centre for Clinical Diagnostics within UQCCR, a facility accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities to ensure discoveries are adopted in clinical practice.

Both UQ projects have been made possible with grants totalling more than $3 million combined under the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

Queensland was awarded four out of eight MRRF ovarian cancer research grants, which is unprecedented for the state.

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