Funding to combat deadly ovarian cancer

Dr Maree Bilandzic has been awarded $700,000 to progress research to target rogue cancer cells called ‘leader cells’.  The announcement is part of $2.2 million awarded by the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) to progress treatments for ovarian cancer.

Dr Bilandzic has identified a small population of the deadliest ovarian cancer cells, called ‘leader cells’ which can survive, and even thrive, even response to chemotherapy.

The funding will allow Dr Bilandzic to screen for drugs that specifically target ‘leader cells’. The aim of screening drugs that target this cell population is to find those which sensitise these cancer cells to chemotherapy again, and could give patients another chance to respond to treatment.

Dr Maree Bilandzic

“The results of this work will be immediate. It will offer ovarian cancer patients the chance for a disease free future,” Dr Bilandzic said.

The silent killer 

Ovarian cancer is called ‘the silent killer’ because the disease is often not detected until it has spread beyond the ovaries. Every year, more than 1,500 Australian women are diagnosed with the disease and it claims the lives of more than 1000.

With no early detection test, more than 75 per cent of patients are shocked to learn they have been diagnosed with advanced disease. Treatment methods are aggressive and involve the removal of diseased tissue. This often means surgical removal of ovaries, tubes, and the uterus, followed by intensive chemotherapy.  For younger women, the current treatment leads to early menopause and infertility.

Whilst these methods are initially successful, over 90 per cent of patients will develop recurrent and resistant disease at which point treatment options are limited. Consequently, only 45 per cent of women with ovarian cancer will survive beyond five years. In comparison, survival rates for breast cancer are 90 per cent.

“Put simply, the treatments we have for ovarian cancer are not effective and there has been little to no improvement in survival over the past 30 years,” says ovarian cancer researcher, Dr Maree Bilandzic. Dr Bilandzic, is one of three Australian researchers awarded $1.5 million funding by the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) to combat ovarian cancer. A further $700,000 has been committed to national collaborative projects.

Innovative approaches to fight ovarian cancer

OCRF Chief Executive, Lucinda Nolan, said the research projects funded in 2019 took novel approaches to tackling and preventing ovarian cancer. A total of $2.2 million is being dedicated to research.

“The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation is one of the largest not-for-profit funders of ovarian cancer research in Australia. Since 2001, we have given more than $16.5 million to Australian researchers in an attempt to make serious inroads into understanding this insidious disease, developing an early detection test and finding new treatments.

“The researchers we have funded this year are taking innovative approaches to tackling ovarian cancer from a range of different angles – targeting rogue ‘leader cells’ and proteins that allow the disease to proliferate, and potentially preventing it altogether with a pill.

“We are also pleased to be contributing nearly $700,000 to collaborative projects including the Australian New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) Precision Medicine Project, the Ovarian Cancer Tissue Bank and the Australian Cancer Research Foundation (ACRF).

“We are encouraged by the veracity of these projects, and optimistic that more women’s lives will be saved by the efforts of researchers like those funded by the OCRF this year.”

About ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynaecological disease. Every year, more than 1,500 Australian women are diagnosed with the disease and it claims the lives of more than 1,000. It is known as the silent killer, as women in the early stages typically do not present with any symptoms. This means the disease is often not detected until the advanced stages, when it has spread beyond the ovaries.

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