Ovarian Cancer Recovery, there is New Hope


Hope for Women



Discoveries herald new hope for women with ovarian cancer

Health research is typically a slow process, with discoveries made by tiny baby steps. It can take years to translate research knowledge into better diagnostic tests and new treatments.

That’s what makes recent findings at the BC Cancer Agency so remarkable. In December 2008, a multidisciplinary ovarian cancer research team announced an important discovery about the genetics of ovarian cancer – that instead of being one single disease it’s made up of a spectrum of distinct diseases.

“Until now,” says research team leader David Huntsman, “ovarian cancer has been treated as a single disease both in the cancer clinic and the research lab.” This may help explain why there have been many fewer advances in ovarian cancer research and treatment than for other cancer types.

On the heels of this important finding, Huntsman says his team decided to knock off ovarian cancers “one sub-type at a time.” For its first target, the team chose granulosa cell ovarian tumors, which account for five percent of ovarian tumors and have no known drug treatments. Working with research colleagues at the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre, Huntsman’s team used the latest genomic sequencing equipment to decipher the genetic code of their selected tumor type.

The results of these genomic sequencing studies were illuminating, says Huntsman, as the research team was able to identify “a single ‘spelling mistake’ in this tumor’s DNA.”

Amazingly, on the basis of that discovery a diagnostic test for this difficult-to-diagnose cancer type will be available by the end of the year. Finding effective treatments that block the single defective gene that causes the tumour will take some time longer.

New options

This could lead to new non-surgical treatment options for patients with this type of cancer. Barbara Johns, lung cancer patient

Still, Huntsman is buoyed by the promise of this research and its potential to save lives. “We’ve had dozens of letters and emails from women around the world with granulosa cell tumours, who’ve written to thank us saying this discovery has given them hope they never thought they would have. Reading these letters has been both incredibly humbling and inspiring for our team.”

The team’s research findings have already been used to advance the care of Richmond patient Barbara Johns, a grade four teacher whose granulosa cell tumor was surgically removed in February 2009. “This could lead to new non-surgical treatment options for patients with this type of cancer,” says Johns, who was the first patient to benefit from the new diagnostic test.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction.”


BC is a global centre of excellence

“The capacity of researchers at BC Cancer and other PHSA partner institutions to discover and develop the next generation of lab tests for ovarian cancer and other diseases was made possible by investments in the Genome Sciences Centre and its partners such as the Centre for Translational and Applied Genomics,” says Huntsman.

“Our ovarian cancer research team and other tumor-site based teams at the BC Cancer Agency are learning from each other’s experiences and making progress faster than I ever thought possible. Ongoing support for this research is making BC a global centre of excellence for cancer biomarker discovery and development,” says Huntsman.

Research Funders

  • BC Cancer Foundation
  • Vancouver General Hospital Foundation
  • Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research
  • Canadian Institute for Health Research
  • Canadian Cancer Society/National Cancer Institute
  • Sanofi-aventis Canada (non-directed educational funding)

Dr. David Huntsman heads PHSA Laboratory’s Centre for Translational and Applied Genomics (CTAG) at the BC Cancer Agency, is an associate professor in UBC’s department of pathology & laboratory medicine, and is interim director of the OvCaRe ovarian cancer research team.

SUCCESS STORIES:  http://www.phsa.ca/Research/Research-Returns-on-Investment/Success-Stories/default.htm


At the cutting edge



“We’re staying at the cutting edge of technology by using powerful molecular tools to detect (NDM) and other organisms like it, and we’re watching for it very closely.”

Dr. Judy Isaac-Renton


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