A research collaboration led by the Hudson Institute of Medical Research as been awarded a $2.2-million grant to advance knowledge about ovarian granulosa cell tumors (GCT) and ultimately improve the outcomes of patients with this rare form of ovarian cancer.
The multi-faceted research project will focus on mapping genetic mutations in GCTs, as well as developing better testing, finding gaps in patient data and care, and investigating personalized and combination treatment options.
The five-year grant from the Medical Research Future Fund‘s Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research Initiative is part of an Australian effort to fund breakthrough research on ovarian cancer.
GCT is a rare form of ovarian cancer that can occur at any age, and accounts for 5%–10% of all ovarian cancer cases. In most cases, GCTs are slow-growing and easy to detect and treat, though they can return up to 30 years later as more resistant and aggressive cancers.
In a small percentage of GCT patients, however, the cancer appears at younger ages (before 30) and is very aggressive from the start. Researchers at the Hudson Institute, Monash Health, Deakin University, and The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have been exploring this juvenile, aggressive form of GCT.
Their studies were kickstarted with a $10,000 donation by the non-profit group Rare Ovarian Cancer, but the new grant will enable them to advance their research much further.
“It’s a real breakthrough for us,” Simon Chu, PhD, leader of the Hormone Center Therapeutics team at the Hudson Institute, said in a press release. “It’s recognising that the work we’re doing is important as well as meaningful. It gives us five years of being able to concentrate on answers to questions that we’ve really wanted to get answered without distraction.”
As GCT is a rare form of ovarian cancer, studies have stalled mostly due to the lack of large collections of patient samples and data, ultimately leading to the condition being largely overlooked.
“It was clear from the literature and communication from women around the world, that this was an overlooked condition; and for those with advanced disease, there were no answers,” said Peter Fuller, PhD, who heads the Centre for Endocrinology and Metabolism at Hudson Institute and the Endocrinology Unit at Monash Health.
One advantage of this project is that researchers will have access to the largest collection of GCT patient data to date, supplied by a Facebook support group called GCT Survivor Sisters.
“One of the exciting parts of this grant is we’re delving into an area that’s new,” said Chu. “Effectively what this group [GCT Survivor Sisters] has done is build this database with some amazing information.”
The project will use this data to focus on five unique areas of GCT research, including patient-reported outcomes, genetic approaches to identify mutations and signaling pathways linked to poor outcomes, molecular studies to establish how mutations cause GCT, improvements to diagnosis and detection, and investigating combination treatment options.
One major goal of the study will be to determine what causes a GCT cyst to become aggressive and resistant to treatment. By mapping the entire genome of GCTs, researchers hope to identify mutations involved with this process.
“Part of the work is to look at the genomic landscape and the mutations that are causing a tumour to become more aggressive,” said Chu.
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