Developing epigenetic biomarkers and therapies for ovarian cancer

What’s the problem?

It is increasingly recognised that epigenetic changes - changes to gene activity not caused by genetic mutation - play a crucial role in ovarian cancer. We need better drugs that target or reverse epigenetic changes in cancer that can be personalised for individual patients.  

  • Lead: Professor Bob Brown
  • Scientists funded by Ovarian Cancer Action: Professor Bob Brown and Dr Sarah Kandil
  • Aim: To understand epigenetic changes in ovarian cancer and develop novel epigenetic therapies  

What’s the science?

  • Cancer is caused by genes being expressed at the wrong time in the wrong place and in the wrong amount
  • Some epigenetic mechanisms can switch off genes that control cell growth, causing cancer cells to multiply uncontrollably
  • One epigenetic mechanism is histone methylation which switches off genes that control cell growth
  • The team have found compounds that decrease histone methylation switch genes back on that can keep cancer cell growth under control
  • These compounds cause tumour cells, particularly key tumour stem cells required for continued tumour growth, to undergo cell death

How will this affect ovarian cancer treatment?

The team are testing compounds that reverse epigenetic gene silencing and inhibit the growth of ovarian cancer cells in preclinical tumour models.

They hope to progress to an early phase clinical trial where the compounds can be tested on women in the hope of creating a new, more effective treatment for ovarian cancer.

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