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What is happening with our research this year?

19 January 2022
Professor Ahmed Oxford

Ovarian Cancer Action raises awareness, funds much needed research, and gives a voice to all those affected by the disease driven by a clear vision - a world where ovarian cancer is a survivable disease. Since 2006, Ovarian Cancer Action has funded over £12 million of research projects: more than any other ovarian cancer charity in the UK. We fund research that focuses on the early detection and treatment of ovarian cancer because improvements in these areas will transform how long and how well women will live.

This year, we are excited to launch our new 5 year research strategy. This sets out how we are aiming to move towards our mission to make ovarian cancer a survivable disease: through funding high quality and innovative scientific and clinical research. Funding research is the most effective way we will be able to have the biggest impact on improving survival rates for women with ovarian cancer. We have seen significant investment in breast cancer and prostate cancer research, which has delivered significant advances. We want to see these same for ovarian cancer. 

But before we delve into our new research ventures, this is what our expert researchers will be working on this year. 

Nationwide BriTROC-2 trial to find more effective treatments now up and running
BriTROC-2 is a new Ovarian Cancer Action funded trial that will help us find better treatments to help women to live longer. Following on from the success of BriTROC-1, this study aims to collect samples from 250 women with newly diagnosed ovarian cancer across the UK. The samples will be studied by Professor Iain McNeish at the Ovarian Cancer Research Centre at Imperial College London to understand how cancer cells change over time and why people respond differently to treatment. 
Two of the nine participating centres, Western General Hospital in Edinburgh and Hammersmith hospital in London are now open to recruit patients. We are excited to see the study progress this year and what breakthroughs in treatment it will bring.

IMPROVE-UK practice improvement pilots kick off

Last year we were delighted to secure funding from the UK Government Tampon Tax Fund to support a project to address systemic and regional health inequalities for women with ovarian cancer. The best survival rates in the UK are close to the highest in the world, and yet we currently have one of the poorest average 5-year survival rates amongst high income countries.

We received applications from NHS cancer centres across the UK, and after vigorous review from an expert panel and patient advisory group, we have awarded funding to 6 pilots. These pilots will now work to look at their current services to see where improvements can be made to help more women surviving ovarian cancer. These range from improving pre-habilitation services, streamlining the care pathway to reduce hospital visits and driving surgical standardisation.  We are excited to see the progress these centres make, and the immediate impact it will have on patient’s lives. 

Our immunotherapy projects continuing to make great progress
Last year, we were able to start our exciting immunotherapy projects which had been delayed due to the pandemic. They are making great progress so far, with even more exciting work to come over 2022.

Professor Graham Cook and his team at the University of Leeds are working to understand how we can use oncolytic viruses - for good. Oncolytic viruses are cancer killers, infecting and breaking down cancer cells without damaging normal cells by stimulating the patient’s anti-tumour immune system responses. The team have developed an oncolytic virus which has shown fantastic potential to be a new treatment for women with ovarian cancer. They are currently using ovarian cancer patient samples collected from surgery to look at the ways that cancer turns the immune system off. They will develop the oncolytic virus, on its own or in combination with other treatments, to ensure it is able to turn the immune system back on, triggering it to attack the cancer. If they are successful, the new treatment could move into clinical trials very quickly.

Professor Ahmed Ahmed and his team at the University of Oxford want to develop a therapeutic vaccine for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer cells have developed a clever way to exhaust the immune system so it cannot do its job. One way to re-energise the immune system is to develop vaccines, created by extracting immune cells called T-cells from the patient, giving them a boost in the lab, and putting them back into the patient. The team are currently testing out if T-cells can be trained to target a specific mutation in an ovarian cancer cell, and destroy the tumour completely.

Professor Iain McNeish and his team at Imperial College London want to understand how PTEN-mutated tumours corrupt myeloid cells, and most importantly, how we can stop this from happening. So far Professor McNeish and his team have demonstrated that ovarian cancer tumours with a PTEN mutation are significantly more aggressive. They are starting to understand how and why these tumours attract different types of immune cells. Understanding the role the different types of immune cells play to support the tumour will be very important in the next few years of this research.

More discoveries in our early detection research

Professor Ahmed Ahmed, from the University of Oxford, is working to better understand how ovarian cancer starts in order to develop the world’s first ovarian cancer screening tool. Alongside his team of expert researchers he continues to investigate how ovarian cancer starts in order to provide better and earlier detection. The project has already shown that the fallopian gives rise to a significant proportion of ovarian cancers. Also, the team have discovered six previously unknown cell types in the fallopian tubes, which are mirrored into different ovarian cancer subtypes. This is an important step in identifying the cell of origin in ovarian cancer.

Stay tuned to hear the latest updates from our experts and the breakthroughs they are making.