New Markers For Ovarian Cancer

Researchers have identified two new biomarkers of ovarian cancer, Lgr5 and CHEK2.

AsianScientist (Aug. 11, 2014) – In two separate studies, scientists have found new clues to early detection and personalized treatment of ovarian cancer, currently one of the most difficult cancers to diagnose early due to the lack of symptoms that are unique to the illness.

Of the cancers that affect women, ovarian cancer is of the greatest concern as it is usually diagnosed only at an advanced stage due to the absence of clear early warning symptoms. Successful treatment is difficult at this late stage, resulting in high mortality rates.

Scientists from the Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) under Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have now identified a biomarker of ovarian stem cells, which may allow for earlier detection of ovarian cancer and thus allow treatment at an early stage of the illness.

The biomarker molecule, known as Lgr5, is found on a subset of cells in the ovarian surface epithelium. Lgr5 has been previously used to identify stem cells in other tissues including the intestine and stomach, but this is the first time that scientists have successfully located this important biomarker in the ovary.

Using Lgr5 as a biomarker of ovarian stem cells, ovarian cancer can potentially be detected earlier, allowing for more effective treatment at an early stage of the illness. These findings were published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

The second study, led by scientists at A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII), looked at the most prevalent of epithelial ovarian cancers, high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HG-SOC). HG-SOC is also one of the most lethal ovarian cancers, with only 30 percent of such patients surviving more than five years after diagnosis. However, it remains poorly understood, with a lack of biomarkers identified for clinical use, from diagnosis to prognosis of patient survival rates.

By applying bioinformatics analysis on big cancer genomics data, BII scientists were able to identify genes whose mutation status could be used for prognosis and development of personalized treatment for HG-SOC.

The gene, Checkpoint Kinase 2 (CHEK2), has been identified as an effective prognostic marker of patient survival. HG-SOC patients with mutations in this gene succumbed to the disease within five years of diagnosis, possibly because CHEK2 mutations were associated with poor response to existing cancer therapies. These findings were published in the journal Cell Cycle.

Mortality after diagnosis currently remains high, as patients receive similar treatment options of chemotherapy and radiotherapy despite the diverse nature of tumour cells within tumours and across different tumour samples. With these findings, personalised medicine for ovarian cancer could be developed, with targeted treatment that would be optimised for subgroups of patients.

The articles can be found at:
Ng et al. (2014) ​Lgr5 Marks Stem/Progenitor Cells in Ovary and Tubal Epithelia.
Ow et al. (2014) Identification of Two Poorly Prognosed Ovarian Carcinoma Subtypes Associated with CHEK2 Germ-line Mutation and non-CHEK2 Somatic Mutation Gene Signatures.


Source: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore; Photo: Ed Uthman/Flickr/CC.
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