Blood based biomarkers in ovarian cancer

Understanding the how the immune system works in ovarian cancer survivors

Ovarian cancer is one of the most lethal female cancers. In the majority of patients, the disease has already spread by the time it is diagnosed and despite treatment, including surgery and chemotherapy, most women will relapse and ultimately die of their disease. 

More than half (57 per cent) of women with ovarian cancer are no longer living five years after their diagnosis – we need to change this.

Recent evidence suggests ovarian cancer survival is closely related to our immune system. The immune system can attack malignant cells it recognises as ‘foreign’ (in the same way it protects us from bacterial infections) and there is a clear relationship between a declining anti-tumour immune response and ovarian cancer recurrence.

However, a lack of understanding of how the immune system mediates these processes has limited the development of effective ovarian cancer therapies.

This project is taking an innovative look at the immune system, to identify key immune-related markers to predict clinical outcomes and reveal new immunotherapeutic approaches. These advances could promote long-term remission in ovarian cancer patients.

Our study will focus on proteins called ‘tumour-antigen associated autoantibodies’ (TAAbs) and ‘cytokines’, which are made by our immune systems to fight ovarian cancer. Blood-based TAAbs and cytokines are associated with disease recurrence and testing these could assist in understanding how women with ovarian cancer respond to chemotherapy and for developing new treatments.

Results of our initial studies may lead to improved prediction of relapse in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer and specific treatments with monoclonal antibodies, which mimic the immune system’s own TAAbs, as well as the development of vaccine therapies for ovarian cancer.

Our project is led by Dr Paul Cohen and Dr Tarek Meniawy from UWA’s Medical School, as well as Dr Yu Yu, a Senior Research Fellow at Curtin University. Clinician researchers at the WA Gynaecological Cancer Service are also involved in this study. Dr Yu Yu received a Raine Priming Grant and support from the St John of God Foundation to conduct this study.

Our project has the potential to change practice and to improve outcomes for the hundreds of thousands of women worldwide who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year.

Contact Dr Paul Cohen

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