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Development of a cell line that represents early-stage ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer (OC) is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, affecting approximately 6,500 women each year. Although the chances of developing OC are increased in those with close relatives who have been affected, most individuals have no family history. Diagnosis of OC at an early stage would greatly improve the chances of effective treatment, however, diagnosis tends to be in the later stages of disease.

Whilst some biomarkers exist, their reliability for correctly diagnosing OC varies and there remains a need to identify a singularly good biomarker that can be used to screen patients with non-specific symptoms, to predict the existence of malignant tumours and ideally enable the early detection of OC using non-invasive tests. The team at Hull, lead by Dr Barbara Guinn, have already identified a small protein – OCP – that has elevated levels in the earliest stages of OC which has limited to no expression in most healthy tissues. This protein has the potential to be used as a biomarker for early diagnosis and, with its small size, may also be excreted in patient urine. MSc research student Alice Fearn is already working with the team to look for the presence of OCP protein in the urine of OC patients.

There is currently a lack of relevant, early-stage cancer models for OC research. Available mouse models have been developed using aggressive, late-stage forms of the cancer, and whilst 80% of all OCs have been shown to develop from fallopian epithelial cells, most cell lines available for research have been produced using different cells. The funding from FRAME will be used to produce an epithelial cell line with the addition of protein OCP to develop a new model for studying early-stage epithelial OC. This will allow Alice, with support from PhD student Kelly Grayson, to investigate how protein OCP is contributing to the early development of OC and share proof of principle with the research community.

The research team has already shown that targeting OCP protein in late-stage OC has the potential to destroy late-stage OC cells. This research will therefore help elucidate the role of protein OCP in early-stage OC development but also determine whether the protein has the potential to be a target for early-stage treatment of the disease.

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