The research we fund

Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre

Thanks to your generous support we are funding a range of research projects that will make a real difference in our fight against ovarian cancer.

All the scientists we fund tackle the major problems women face across the ovarian cancer pathway – from screening and early detection, to treatment and recurrence. This is the only way we can make our vision a reality and stop women dying before their time. We fund exciting projects at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre at Imperial College London and the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University. 

The Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre

The Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre was founded in 2006 and is now home to 60 scientists. Led by Professor Iain McNeish, the team is made up of both lab-based scientists, and clinician scientists, (including surgeons and oncologists), who work in the lab and treat patients. Their research is international, collaborative and translational – meaning it aims to ‘translate’ directly into new medicines, procedures and diagnostic tools that will benefit patients directly. 

They are achieving this with a range of projects that tackle different problems.

Reducing the chance of relapse

Dr Chiara Recchi’s team is investigating OPCML, a protein found in our bodies that works to suppress tumours. OPCML is under-produced in the majority of ovarian cancer patients, and we believe this could be one reason why many patients develop cancer. Dr Recchi’s main focus is to better understand how OPCML works and use this information to develop a treatment that prevents the growth and spread of a patient’s tumour, and lowers the chance of relapse after chemotherapy. Dr Recchi’s findings could also lead to a non-chemotherapy treatment. This is an exciting prospect considering that one of the biggest problems faced by women with relapsed ovarian cancer is chemo-resistance. 

Stopping ovarian cancer in its tracks

Professor Bob Brown leads a team that investigates epigenetics changes: the study of non-genetic factors that affect the way our genes function and communicate with the cells in our body. His team is examining the factors that first, ‘switch off’ our tumour suppressor genes, (the genes that control cell growth), and second, disrupt the genes that make tumour cells sensitive to chemotherapy. These findings will hopefully lead to treatments that can stop ovarian cancer tumours from growing and increase the effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs.

Personalised medicine and prevention

Dr James Flanagan investigates how ovarian cancer risk is linked to changes in gene expression. Gene expression is a process whereby information encoded in a gene is used to produce a functional product – such as a protein – that dictates a cell’s function. Many cancer risk factors can affect this process. Dr Flanagan wants to identify and understand ovarian cancer-specific risk factors. This could lead to a personalised risk and prevention programme that identifies high-risk women and gives them 

the tools to protect their health.   

Genetic risk screening

Dr Jonathan Krell is assessing how feasible it would be to implement a new genetic testing model, by investigating women’s attitudes towards genetic testing, technology, and access to genetic services.  

The University of Oxford

Professor Ahmed Ahmed and his talented team of researchers at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, are working to transform ovarian cancer survival rates. They are exploring several key areas in ovarian cancer research and have already made some promising discoveries. 

Professor Ahmed lab
Personalised treatment

The Oxford team discovered that chemotherapy is more effective in some recurred ovarian cancer tumours than others. Professor Ahmed’s lab examined the cells of recurred ovarian cancer tumours, specifically those sections wiped out by chemotherapy, and found that these sections appeared to have genetically evolved to become very sensitive to chemotherapy. The Oxford team is now working to understand how this sensitivity evolved. Developing a new treatment that mimics this genetic evolution is an exciting opportunity to help treat and eradicate cancer cells.

Early detection and screening

Professor Ahmed’s team found that a protein called SOX2 is present at high levels in the fallopian tubes of women with ovarian cancer and those who have a high risk of the disease. By improving our understanding of SOX2, and developing a test for the protein, Professor Ahmed hopes to pave the way for the development of a screening tool. Read our interview with Professor Ahmed about the significance and potential impact of this work.

Cancer biology

The team is looking to map the genetic profile of pre-cancerous lesions in the fallopian tubes (called STICS) in order to understand how these lesions become cancerous. Examining ovarian cancer in its pre-cancerous state will give scientists an opportunity to uncover a way to detect and treat the disease before it develops. 

HHMT International Forum on Ovarian Cancer

Every four years Ovarian Cancer Action curates and hosts a conference of international ovarian cancer experts. The HHMT International Forum on Ovarian Cancer brings together scientists across all disciplines to debate and determine the priorities in ovarian cancer research. These are published in the important journal Nature Reviews Cancer. These priorities inform our own research objectives.  You can download the Nature Reviews Cancer 2015 article and lay summary here.