University of Newcastle researcher Dr Nikola Bowden is investigating a DNA repair protein that is implicated in ovarian cancer tumours becoming resistant to chemotherapy, with hopes of eventually developing a prognostic test and more tailored treatments.
Around 75 per cent of women suffering advanced ovarian cancer succumb to the disease because of late detection and inherent aggressiveness. They may initially respond positively to chemotherapy but then unknowingly develop a resistance.
“Currently there is no way of diagnosing which patients will respond to chemotherapy and which won’t, which means that many have to endure the harsh side-effects of the treatment without gaining a therapeutical benefit,” Dr Bowden, from HMRI’s Information Based Medicine program, said.
“We are studying the role of a protein known as ERCC1 in the biological pathway that could be causing the resistance, so we can hopefully identify chemotherapy responsiveness much earlier.
“There are very few options once a tumour becomes resistant, but if we can find the point when patients begin to develop resistance they could be treated using a different and perhaps more effective method.”
Dr Bowden has a personal connection with ovarian cancer as a friend from Newcastle’s Oxfords Hockey Club, Judy Raymond, passed away last year.
It inspired the annual Oxfords Ladies Lunch to raise funds for research, allowing Dr Bowden and her team to quantify the expression of ERCC1 in ovarian cancer biopsies.
With February being Ovarian Cancer Month, Judy’s daughter Kristy Raymond says her mother’s dream was to increase awareness about ovarian cancer symptoms and improve treatments.
“I think Nikola’s research is just vital in trying to prolong and improve the lives of women with ovarian cancer, which is what my mum would have wanted,” Kristy said.
The study is also being supported by proceeds from the HMRI/ASX Thomson Reuters Charity Foundation Art Union closing on February 28, along with Bob and Paula Cameron.
The research is likely to have broader possibilities for people suffering other forms of cancer.
“There’s the potential that any cancers that receive this form of chemotherapy will also be able to use the protein test to identify resistance,” Dr Bowden said. “It is likely that it may also work for lung cancer and melanoma.”
* Dr Nikola Bowden is from the University of Newcastle and a member of the HMRI Information Based Medicine and Cancer Research Programs. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.