Israeli Researchers Target Ovarian Cancer
The Tel Aviv University team focused on metastatic cancers.
The executive director of the Georgia Ovarian Cancer Alliance is excited about the latest research coming out of Israel that indicates a new potential treatment for aggressive and metastatic cancers resistant to chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
“For years, Israel has been on the leading edge” of ovarian cancer research, said Doug Barron, who has headed GOCA since 2010. “This sounds promising.”
He is referring to the recent research published in the peer reviewed Science Advances journal by Professor Dan Peer of the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at Tel Aviv University. The research was based on the desire to battle uncontrolled cell division, which is the basis of cancerous tumors. The scientists aimed at metastasized ovarian cancer cells with lipid nanoparticles containing RNA for silencing a specific protein which is produced by a genetically unstable mutation resistant to both chemotherapy and immunotherapy in the tissues of ovarian cancer.
Barron said this is significant because “it’s not the initial diagnosis of ovarian cancer that women are dying from. It’s the reoccurrences,” which metastasize to other areas of the body. “If you can’t catch ovarian cancer early, but you can keep it from coming back, that’s a fantastic opportunity.”
According to the research, the protein was “silenced,” meaning that it stopped the growth of cell division in ovarian cancer cells, while normal control cells were not impacted. In the research, there was an 80 percent survival rate in mice. Peer has estimated that this technology will be available for human trials in two to three years.
“This is positive that they are so close to going to human trials,” said Barron.
Unlike many cancers, there is no screening test for early detection of ovarian cancer, so the cancers aren’t usually diagnosed until late stage, making it harder to treat and to save the women’s lives. For 20 years, Barron noted, the statistics haven’t changed. Women diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer have about a 30 percent chance of living five years. If caught at earlier stages, the women have a 93 percent survival rate.
“It’s mind-boggling,” said Barron, whose mother-in-law was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2001 and after two reoccurrences, died in 2007.
Ovarian cancer is one of the most frequent causes of mortality in women, with more than 200,000 deaths recorded in 2020. In Georgia, 650 women are diagnosed each year, with about 375 deaths, based on national ovarian cancer statistics.
Worldwide, ovarian cancer affects one in every 78 females. It is the fifth deadliest malignancy in women. However, the risk of diagnosis increases for Ashkenazi Jewish women because there’s a higher prevalence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations among that population, making it more likely they will develop the disease. In the general population, the BRCA defect carrier rate is 1 in 500. Among Ashkenazi Jews, the carrier rate is one in 40. BRCA genetic defects are passed down in families. A woman with the BRCA1 mutation has an estimated 39 to 46 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer by age 70.
Worldwide, ovarian cancer affects one in every 78 females. It is the fifth deadliest malignancy in women. However, the risk of diagnosis increases for Ashkenazi Jewish women because there’s a higher prevalence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations among that population, making it more likely they will develop the disease.
Barron said his organization is pushing for genetic testing for women. If they learn they have genetic mutations that could lead to ovarian, as well as breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers, their doctors can perhaps diagnose it at an earlier stage.
After diagnosis, women generally undergo surgery, followed by chemotherapy with platinum/taxane drugs. Although 60 to 80 percent of patients initially respond to chemotherapy, 80 to 85 percent will develop chemo-resistance. That means scientists are constantly searching for new therapeutic targets for ovarian cancer.
Recent reports on drug shortages point out that this includes platinum drugs used to target ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society recently warned that delays in treatment caused by the shortages could result in worse outcomes for the patients.
Barron said that this raises all kinds of questions like, how will the drug be rationed? Who will they be distributed to? Are women putting off treatment that could ultimately result in their deaths? He acknowledged that he has not heard of any of these cases, but he is concerned. The chemo drugs that are scarce are not backup drugs but are used as the initial treatment for women with ovarian cancer, as well as some other cancers.