QUB researchers develop early test for ovarian cancer

  • Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast have developed a test that may be able to detect ovarian cancer up to two years earlier than current approaches.

    The researchers discovered that the presence of four proteins together, known as a biomarker panel, indicates the likelihood of Epithelial Ovarian Cancer (EOC). Using these biomarkers the researchers then developed a screening test that initial studies suggest may be able to detect ovarian cancer up to two years before current detection tests.

    The research was carried out in partnership with the University of New South Wales Australia, University of Milan, University of Manchester and University College London.

    The study, published in the high-impact journal Nature, involved the analysis of blood samples from 80 individuals across a seven-year period.

    Dr Bobby Graham from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast and lead author of the study explained: "This a relatively simple diagnostic test. The algorithm designed will screen the blood sample and flag any abnormal levels of the proteins associated with the cancer. The screening test identifies ovarian cancer up to two years before the current tests allow.”

    Most ovarian cancers are epithelial ovarian cancers, which is a cancer that forms in the tissue covering the ovary.

    In females in the UK, ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer. In 2016, 4227 deaths were reported as a result of EOC.

    If diagnosed at stage one of EOC, there is a 90% chance of five-year survival compared to 22% if diagnosed at a stage three or four.

    Dr Graham added: “The results of this study are encouraging, however, we now want to focus on testing it in a wider sample set so that we can use the data to advocate for an ovarian cancer screening programme.”

    The project was jointly funded by the Eve Appeal charity and Cancer Research UK.

    Dr Rachel Shaw, Research Information Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Around half of ovarian cancer cases are picked up at a late stage, when treatment is less likely to be successful. So developing simple tests like these that could help detect the disease sooner is essential.

    "At Cancer Research UK, we’re working hard to find new ways to detect cancer early and improve the tests already available. It’s really exciting to see these encouraging results for this type of ovarian cancer.”

    Athena Lamnisos, CEO of the Eve Appeal says, “We are extremely proud to have part funded the PROMISE programme, which brought together experts for a 7 year project to try and diagnose ovarian cancer at an earlier stage.

    “Sadly, so many women are diagnosed late, to devastating effect. We are hopeful the outcomes of this project will have a positive effect on women in the future.”

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    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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