Research studies have suggested that ovarian cancer is associated with a specific set of volatile compounds, giving it a characteristic odor. Now, the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation has awarded the Philadelphia-based Monell Chemical Senses Center a three-year, $815,000 grant to continue this research and potentially build a device that can identify this cancer’s odor pattern and help diagnose the disease at an early and treatable stage.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect due to the absence of visible symptoms. To date, there are no reliable diagnostic tests for this type of cancer, and patients are mostly diagnosed in later stages of the disease, which reduces their treatment options and prognosis.
“Currently, most ovarian cancers have grown to the size of an onion by the time they are diagnosed,” George Preti, PhD and leader of the Monell research group, said in a news release. “By this time, the patient prognosis is poor. Our goal is to harness information from the released odors to create a sensitive diagnostic scanner that can detect this deadly disease when it is the size of a peppercorn and the five-year survival rate is greater than 90 percent.”
Previous studies by Preti’s group had shown that ovarian cancer has a unique chemical mixture of specific volatile compounds that can be detected in patients’ blood samples using certain laboratory techniques, such as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.
The Kleberg grant will allow the group to confirm these findings, and continue its research toward identifying exactly which ovarian cancer-related volatile molecules can potentially be used as specific and sensitive biomarkers to detect different stages and subtypes of this disease.
The project includes three approaches: training dogs to confirm that ovarian cancer has an odor signature, identifying the volatile compounds that compose this signature, and creating a portable diagnostic tool programmed to detect and recognize such compounds.
“This critical funding from the Kleberg Foundation will enable us to validate and extend our findings on identifying ovarian cancer based on its odor signature,” said Robert Margolskee, MD, PhD and Monell Center’s director. “We then hope to leverage this basic knowledge into clinical trials of a diagnostic sensor.”