Researcher Spotlight: Why We Need More Research into Ovarian Cancer
February marks Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, a disease that claims the life of one Australian woman every 8 hours. Thankfully, researchers like Emily, Tracy and Caroline are working hard to change this…
DR CAROLINE FORD
Group Leader, Gynaecological Cancer Research Group at UNSW
Caroline, a 40-year-old mother of two young children, is determined to make a difference for women with ovarian cancer. ‘As a feminist, I have a strong interest in women’s health and feel ovarian cancer has been overlooked and underfunded for far too long.’
One of Caroline’s current major ovarian cancer projects aims to develop an early detection test for ovarian cancer via detecting methylated DNA in a patient’s blood. ‘The majority of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread to other organs, making surgery and treatment difficult,’ says Caroline. We’re aiming to develop a sensitive and specific test to detect ovarian cancer at the very earliest stage, when curative surgery is possible.
Although Caroline feels incredibly lucky to lead a group of dedicated researchers in her lab, and to collaborate with patients and clinicians to improve outcomes for the disease, confronting the low survival rate is something she finds very difficult. ‘Through my research, fundraising and the media I have been lucky to meet many amazing women with this disease, but sadly many of these relationships are brief,’ says Caroline. ‘It’s challenging, but ultimately motivating. I’d like to assure ovarian cancer patients that there is an international army of committed ovarian cancer researchers out there collaborating on research and working hard to improve the situation.’
DR EMILY COVIN
Postdoctoral Researcher, Kolling Institute, NSW
Sydney based scientist, Emily, is currently working on several ovarian cancer projects, one of which is testing novel therapies in the aim to make it more difficult for cancer cells to survive and spread.
‘Even though I don’t get to do it very often, talking to patients about my research, answering their questions and learning more about their experiences is very rewarding. It really helps to put the research I do into perspective,’ says Emily, whose long-term goals is to see some of the treatments she has been working on in the lab make it to clinical trial stage.
Emily stresses the importance of funding for ovarian cancer, saying ‘Better treatments are needed to improve outcomes for these women, and this is only going to be achieved through research. Increasing the amount of research into early detection of ovarian cancer has the potential to drastically change the prognosis of this tumour type.’
DR TRACY O’MARA
Endometrial Cancer Researcher, QIMR Berghofer, QLD
Tracy’s research grant is co-funded by Cancer Australia through the Priority-driven Cancer Support Scheme. Her second year is 50% funded by The Can Too Foundation.
Mother of three Tracy is passionate about her work in ovarian cancer and is determined to improve the outcomes for patients. ‘It’s a dreadful disease which needs more research into its genetic underpinnings,’ she says.
Tracy’s is currently exploring the genetic links common to the development of ovarian and endometrial (uterine) cancer, two gynaecological cancers which share some similarities. The research has allowed Tracy and her collaborators to expand their understanding of cancer and potentially lead to the development of new therapies. ‘I work with an international network of researchers, collaborating to further our understanding of cancer. It’s pretty inspiring!’
The most challenging aspect of Tracy’s work is acquiring grant funding to carry out her work. ‘There are a lot of great researchers doing good work and a limited amount of money available to fund them,’ she explains. ‘Because the outcomes for women with ovarian cancer are often not good compared with other cancers, we need to do more research to understand the biology of ovarian cancer and discover new drug targets to develop more effective therapies.’
Despite the challenges, Tracy is hopeful. ‘In the last 10 years, there have been major advances in the tools used to research cancer, which is helping us understand how ovarian cancer develops and will eventually lead to the development of new therapies to better treat patients.’
We desperately need more funding into ovarian cancer to stop more women dying from this terrible disease. Please donate today and help eliminate the threat for good.