Test to better detect early-stage ovarian cancer
A research team led by The University of Queensland (UQ) is developing a test that could help reduce the high mortality rate from ovarian cancer by dramatically improving the accuracy of early detection.
Known as ‘the silent killer’, ovarian cancer was diagnosed in 1500 Australian women in 2019, taking the lives of over 1000 more. The UQ researchers aim to reduce this number by achieving rapid identification of ovarian cancer in the first and second stages of formation — where the current gaps in community detection are evident — through the targeting of tiny ‘bubbles’ produced by cells, known as exosomes.
“Exosomes essentially act as ‘letters’, travelling long distances via the bloodstream to deliver messages to other organs,” said UQ’s Associate Professor Carlos Salomon Gallo, leader of the new project.
“They have the extraordinary ability to capture a snapshot of what’s going on inside the organs.
“By measuring these biomarkers, we hope to be able to identify if women have early-stage ovarian cancer through a simple blood test.”
The researchers said the test had successfully detected more than 90% of early ovarian cancer, compared to 50% for existing methods. Assoc Prof Salomon Gallo said the results, validated in 500 patients, were extremely encouraging.
“The capacity of our method to identify positive cases suggests it could be an ideal first-line test for population screening,” Dr Salomon Gallo said.
The project has received $2.7 million from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to validate the method in a larger cohort of patients and for clinical implementation. Dr Salomon Gallo and his fellow UQ researchers will now increase the scale of their testing, working with Professor Usha Menon of University College London to evaluate the test with data from the world’s largest ovarian cancer screening trial.
“We will have access to samples taken between one and five years before the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and will determine how early our test can identify these women,” Dr Salomon Gallo said.
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