Prof. Clare Scott's Research
It is exciting to share some news of the great work being done at ‘The Women’s’ by a member of our team who continually ‘pushes the boundaries’.
As you are well aware, despite efforts to develop screening tools, 80% of epithelial ovarian cancers are diagnosed after they have spread beyond the ovary, and because ovarian cancer becomes resistant to current therapies so often, it is essential that we discover new treatments.
Professor Clare Scott is a world leader in this field. Clare is a member of our Scientific Advisory Committee and is passionate about improving the outcomes for women with ovarian cancer. As a Clinician Scientist, she spreads her time between the care of women with ovarian cancer and her role as Head of the Ovarian Cancer Laboratory at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
“My research concentrates on developing new models of epithelial ovarian cancer in order to improve our understanding of the molecular or genetic characteristics of specific subsets of ovarian cancer.
We know that certain subsets are unresponsive to treatment, which is why our current “one size fits all” treatment approach fails all too often. We aim to produce new treatment strategies based upon a detailed understanding of the genetics of specific subsets of ovarian cancers – in effect, to “match” cancers to a treatment.
In order to do this it is important to biopsy the tumour when it comes back after treatment, not just relying on information from the ovarian cancer when first diagnosed - as ovarian cancers will adapt and evolve, in order to evade treatments.
Our aim is to identify changes in the ovarian cancer, which we can then track during and after treatment, (watching for the development of drug resistant ‘clones’). That way, we can identify therapies to halt the advance of these evolving tumours. In short, we need to evolve our therapies faster than the cancer can evolve.
In years to come, we would prefer to be able to do this guided by blood tests, rather than having to biopsy the ovarian cancer itself. We would like to “screen” the blood for changes in cancerous DNA that reflect what is occurring in ovarian cancer cells throughout the body (not just where we can manage to biopsy). Based on a program of regular blood testing, we aim to provide a sequence of well-tolerated, specifically targeted drugs, which allow women to go about their daily lives, to work and care for their families, and enjoy a better quality of life.
Today we are building a significant ‘bank’ of tissue and blood samples, which enable us to match or ‘pair’ the tumour and blood samples for analysis. Right now, we can’t just look in the blood for any DNA change that might be related to the ovarian cancer. We can only look in the blood for changes which we have already observed in the cancer itself.
In our laboratory, we are analysing individual ovarian cancers in detail, and we aim to prove relationships between changes in the cancers and changes we can identify in blood samples following treatment, proving whether a treatment has worked.
My vision is for us to have access to whole genome sequencing at the time of diagnosis for every woman at the hospital who has ovarian cancer and then to be able to track changes in the cancer by sampling the blood after treatment.
At the moment, the sequencing and analysis of one ovarian cancer costs close to $10,000, yet for each ovarian cancer for which we can afford to perform this process we will gain a huge amount of genetic information to help “match” treatments in the future, tailored to each woman’s cancer.
“Having a large ‘bank’ of genetic material has never been more important, as rapid changes in technology enable us to analyse much faster than before and uncover valuable information. It would enable many groups of researchers working on the same ovarian cancer samples to look at the data from their point of view – to generate and share valuable information, so that for each ovarian cancer we can work out what the specific Achilles’ heel is, to “match” treatment to that woman’s cancer.
“I firmly believe that, in the future, tumour biopsy in the blood is the way to go. A blood test is just five to ten years away. Our work on ‘pairing’ blood analysis with analysis of the ovarian cancer now will help us really understand the links between tumour response to treatments and changes in blood in the future.
I hope you can help support our work with your donation to this important area of ovarian cancer research.”