3D models mimic cells to fight aggressive ovarian cancer

Queensland researchers are using 3D models to mimic cancer cells in women with aggressive ovarian tumours, in a bid to improve treatment for those diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Cancer Council Queensland has awarded $200,000 of funding over two years to a team of researchers at QUT to target enzymes that cause cancer cells to resist chemotherapy.

QUT Distinguished Professor Judith Clements said for some women with aggressive ovarian tumours that spread throughout the body, chemotherapy simply did not work. “We have discovered that a group of enzymes, called KLK enzymes, are increased in women with more aggressive cancers and that these women usually do not respond to one of the chemotherapies used – taxane chemotherapy,” Prof Clements said.


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“In this project, we use a 3D culture model to mimic the cancer cells that float in the ascites that accumulates in the abdomen of women with ovarian cancer. We use another 3D model of the cancer cells invading the abdominal wall to better understand how KLK7 makes cancer cells more aggressive and invasive, and less responsive to the chemotherapy. We hope that in the future that a test can be developed that can detect high levels of KLK7 in women with ovarian cancer, and that we can use a similar KLK7 blocking drug to make those women more responsive to the taxane chemotherapy in a personalised precision medicine approach.”

Around 270 Queensland women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and about 160 die from the disease. Ovarian cancer is one of the hardest cancers to detect and is the leading cause of death from gynaecological cancer, with less than half of all women diagnosed surviving five years.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said it was important for all women to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer and to be cautious of overlooking the warning signs. “Ovarian cancer can be very difficult to diagnose early because symptoms can be vague and similar to other common illnesses – so we’re urging all women to be vigilant,” Ms Clift said.

“When you have symptoms that are new for you, have persisted for two weeks or more and you have them on all or most days, then it’s time to see your doctor. Symptoms include increased abdominal size or bloating, unexplained abdominal or pelvic pain, feeling full and/or having difficulty eating, unexplained weight gain or loss, back pain, indigestion, nausea or excessive fatigue. If Queensland women have questions or concerns regarding ovarian cancer, they should visit their GP.”

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available via 13 11 20 or cancerqld.org.au.

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