Cancer Research Teams Working to Identify Early Biomarkers of Ovarian Cancer

Cancer Research Teams Working to Identify Early Biomarkers of Ovarian Cancer

With a $544,360 developmental grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), four research teams are joining efforts to identify biomarkers of ovarian cancer with a goal of detecting the disease earlier or before it even develops.

The collaboration, named DoD and SPORE Ovarian Cancer Omics Consortium, will include researchers at Inova, specifically the healthcare provider’s Women’s Health Integrated Research Center, and teams at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute), the Mayo Clinic, and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“I don’t believe there has ever been such a united effort in medical science among researchers from both government and academic research organizations,” Larry Maxwell, MD, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Inova Fairfax Women’s Hospital and co-principal investigator of the effort, said in a press release.

Women with ovarian cancer who are diagnosed in the early stages have a good chance of successfully being treated. However, many ovarian cancers are only detected at later and more advanced stages.

Tools that might allow early detection, having the potential to change the impact of ovarian cancer and help save lives, are not yet available.

The consortium will use top-of-the-line technologies to discover biomarkers — proteins or other molecules that indicate that a process, such as cancer, is taking place in the body. Such biomarkers can indicate cancer in its early stages.

“There’s a window of opportunity where we can potentially prevent ovarian cancer, and that’s the challenge these accomplished teams are coming together to tackle using state-of-the-art omics technologies,” said Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, deputy director of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and principal investigator of the initiative.

Omics technologies are those that study large families of molecules, like genes (genomics), RNA (transcriptomics; measures what genes are being expressed and to what extend), proteins (proteomics), and other cellular molecules.

Since these technologies help in understanding the roles of these molecules and differences between cells, like healthy and cancerous cells, they may help to identify molecules or sets of molecules whose levels change once ovarian cancer starts to develop. They might also aid in identifying specific mutations that increase the disease’s risk.

“Our hope is that through team science, state-of-the-art technology, and grassroots advocacy we will be able to dampen the impact of this very deadly and devastating cancer,” Odunsi said.