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Researchers identify how ovarian cancer hijacks natural cell process to survive

26 June 2017

Cancer cells

A new study, published today in Nature Communications, has identified how cancer tumours manipulate a natural process called non-sense medicated decay (NMD) to promote their survival.

The study, led by Professor Ahmed Ahmed at the University of Oxford, and part-funded by Ovarian Cancer Action, looked at genomic data from more than 7,000 tumours to show how cancer cells exploit NMD to eliminate cancer-protective genes.

NMD provides cells with the ability to detect DNA errors and gene mutations and eliminate faulty genes before they can cause disease formation. The study showed that cancer cells ‘hijack’ this process to eliminate a gene called TP53, which ordinarily protects the body from developing cancer.

Based on this research, the team predict that because cancers essentially feed on NMD, they become dependant on it in some cases. If scientists were therefore able to inhibit or control the process, it is possible that they could also control cancer and prevent the progression of the disease.

Katherine Taylor, Chief Executive at Ovarian Cancer Action, said: “This is very exciting news. This discovery could help clinicians identify and inhibit NMD, giving them much better control of a person's cancer.

"Ovarian cancer is a very complicated disease and survival rates are low, with only 46% of women living beyond five years after diagnosis. So understanding how we can prevent the disease from thriving is imperative if we are to improve the outcome for more women.

"It’s fantastic to see how our funding is helping make real progress and we couldn’t do this without the generosity of our supporters. We look forward to seeing where Professor Ahmed takes his research next.”

Moving forward the team will focus on testing their theory and understanding to what degree stopping the NMD process allows them to control tumours.

Dr Ahmed Ahmed, researcher at the ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre, said: “Our first observations of evidence of the role of NMD in ovarian cancer were tantalizing. We went on to test the role of NMD in other cancer types and the evidence of the role of NMD was compelling.

"This opens the door for exciting possibilities for customised treatments including individualized immunotherapies for patients in the future.”

Find out more about the research funded by Ovarian Cancer Action.