Published on January 24, 2012 at 9:34 PM
By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Ovarian cancer is often detected at a late stage and it is the leading cause of death due to gynecological cancers, and the sixth leading cause of cancer death in women. According to a latest discovery by researchers at Sydney’s Garvan Institute there may be a way this killer cancer could be detected earlier.
For the experiment the researchers used whole genome profiling to identify six genes that undergo DNA methylation in a majority of ovarian cancers. They speculate this could pave the way for a new diagnostic test that looks for these epigenetic traces of ovarian cancer.
Usually ovarian cancers are diagnosed only once the disease has spread past the pelvis and into other organs including the stomach, bowel and lungs. They are typically very hard to get rid of with surgery and they tend to become rapidly resistant to chemotherapeutics. Women diagnosed at a late stage have a 30 per cent five-year survival rate. Women diagnosed at an early stage have a 90 per cent five-year survival rate.
The research was conducted by Brian Gloss, Dr Philippa O’Brien and Professor Susan Clark, and is published in the journal Cancer Letters. “This was one of first studies that used whole genome techniques to directly profile DNA methylation aberrations in ovarian cancer – with the aim of identifying diagnostic biomarkers,” said Gloss. “One of the key methylated genes we identified was a novel gene, which had not been identified as being mis-regulated in any cancer before. When we then analyzed a further 100 tumors, we found that the novel biomarker gene was methylated in 80 per cent of them.”
He added, “This paper represents the first half of our work. The next step will be to see how our panel of biomarker genes is methylated in a larger cohort of ovarian tumors, and to identify the function of our novel gene. The most difficult aspect of ovarian cancer is that it is a molecularly heterogeneous disease, meaning that each tumor can be quite different from the next. We need to show, therefore, that our panel of biomarkers will be a sufficiently rigorous diagnostic tool, able to catch the requisite number of tumors.”
If successful and robust this test could help save millions of lives worldwide.