Scientists have managed to extend the lives of drug-resistant ovarian cancer patients through a combination therapy and discovered other ways to attack the stubborn disease.
In 10 seconds? Scientists shrunk the tumours in women suffering from previously untreatable ovarian cancer by finding a way to stop their resistance to chemotherapy. (Read the science)
What’s the breakthrough? In a trial with promising results, researchers managed to extend the lives of patients with previously untreatable ovarian cancer by almost six months by combining a new and an existing drug that shrunk down their tumours. (Read the paper on Sparrho)
How did they know what to do? The team investigated why some ovarian cancer cells became drug-resistant. Studying a pain-causing fluid drained from the abdomens of patients with advanced ovarian cancer, they noticed that the cancer cells contained a high level of a growth-inducing molecule called p-S6K. (Learn more about this fluid)
What did they do with that information? They combined a known anti-cancer drug with one that blocks mTOR, an enzyme which usually controls cell growth, is highly active in some cancers, and one that can boost levels of p-S6K. So in theory, blocking mTOR could slow the spread of ovarian cancer cells that contain a high level of p-S6K. (More on the role of mTOR)
And what did the trial show? Over half of the women with ovarian cancer in the study saw their tumours shrink by at least 30% – albeit only for about half a year. The therapy was also trialled on lung cancer patients and over a third of them responded in a similar way. These results are encouraging, because there have been relatively few advancements in the treatment of ovarian cancer in the past decades.
You mean this is the best hope? Not at all – we’ve recently seen promising results with drugs called PARP inhibitors. These were developed for treating breast cancer by preventing tumour cells from repairing lethal damage to their DNA. However, studies suggest these can be more effective in the early stages of ovarian cancer, which is easy to miss, due to patients not noticing the symptoms in time. (More on PARP inhibitors)
Did you mention another 'avenger'? Indeed, it looks like immunotherapy might have a comeback. It previously proved ineffective against super-protected ovarian tumours, but an American team recently created ‘double-headed’ antibodies to breach the tumours’ defences, and launch an immune response. One 'head' triggers ovarian cancer cells to self-destruct, while the other attracts immune cells to finish the job – but there hasn’t been a human trial yet, so keep your eyes open for the next chapter in their story. (Find out more).
A ginger plant that can help against ovarian cancer
Researchers say a species of the ginger family, Alpinia katsumadai shows potential against ovarian cancer.
The plant is well known in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Scientists studied the anti-cancer effects of a molecule extracted from the plant, alpinetin and found that it inhibited the growth of ovarian cancer cells and generated proteins that triggered the death of ovarian and pancreatic cancer cells.
Another molecule, cardamonin, which was extracted from the plant's seeds, prevented the spread of non-small cell lung cancer in the body.
(Psst, Flavia distilled 16 research papers to save you 932.6 min)
BSc in Biomedical Science, former researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research, London. Current Review Operations Specialist for scientific journal Frontiers in Oncology.