Griffith University researchers are making inroads in ovarian cancer research looking at early detection signs and how the disease spreads through the body.

February marks the month for ovarian cancer awareness, a disease at the forefront of work being conducted by the university’s Institute for Glycomics.

Professor Michael Jennings, Deputy Director of the Institute for Glycomics

Professor Michael Jennings and team has received a $444,203 grant from the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation to enable them to continue their research into early-stage ovarian cancer detection.

“A specific sugar-based biomarker New5Gc isn’t normally found in healthy human tissue,” Professor Jennings said.

“We’ve found this sugar is present at increased levels in the blood of women with ovarian cancer, relative to cancer-free women, and increases its levels as the cancer progresses.

“The study will bring together leading glycoscience researchers and experts in magnetic resonance (MR) technology with cancer clinicians at the Mater and Princess Alexandra Hospitals in Brisbane.

“Over the next 12 months, my team will analyse samples taken from women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and also those who are cancer-free.

“The purpose of the study is to refine our understanding of the biomarker in ovarian cancer so women who have elevated levels in their blood may benefit from an MRI scan and tumour detection when the disease is most treatable.

“It will set the foundation for the development of minimally invasive screening and monitoring tests which will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes.”

Key to the Institute’s ovarian cancer research is the novel imaging capabilities of advanced mass spectronomy instruments housed in the Institute’s Australian Cancer Research Foundation International Centre for Cancer Glycomics.

Dr Arun Everest-Dass

This state-of-the-art equipment allows researchers to deep mine the cancer glyco-code down to a single cell level.

Professor Mark von Itzstein AO, Director of the Institute for Glycomics

Research Scientist Dr Arun Everest-Dass’s work focuses on identifying unique sugars that decorate ovarian cancer cells which could help prevent the spread of cancer.

“The study looks at the metastatic cascade of ovarian cancer cells, which is one of the major reasons for a high death rate,” Dr Everest-Dass said.

“During this metastatic cascade, tumour cells undergo changes to their state and behaviour, a phenomenon referred to as cell plasticity,” Dr Everest-Dass said.

“We identified unique sugars on the surface of the cell called ‘glycolipids’ which are involved in the spread of ovarian cancer.

“We found these sugar molecules may be potent therapeutic targets in the fight against the spread of ovarian cancer.”

Institute for Glycomics Director, Professor Mark von Itzstein AO, is delighted with the award of an Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation grant, and with the Institute’s outstanding developments in ovarian cancer research.

“Support from leading research foundations is vital to the translation of our Institute’s research into improved outcomes for women across the globe suffering from this insidious and life-threatening disease,” Professor von Itzstein said.