Ovarian Cancer - GRACE Funded Research
Dr Juhi Kumar – Brunel University
Ovarian cancer affects over 7,000 women in the UK every year and according to CRUK, more than 50% of those women will not be able to survive the disease. A major issue contributing to high fatality rates is late diagnosis, with symptoms being vague and often comparable to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While most cancer diagnoses require a tissue biopsy for confirmation, liquid biopsies (i.e. blood) offer a promising alternative to tissue samples as a non-invasive technique, which can be developed as a diagnostic tool and to monitor disease evolution. CA125 is currently used as a biomarker in blood to further confirm presence of ovarian cancer as well as monitor patient treatment. However, several studies have shown that CA125 levels can be elevated in numerous other conditions (both cancerous and non-cancerous), so a raised CA125 level doesn't mean a woman definitely has ovarian cancer.
My PhD project focuses on looking at alternative biomarkers for ovarian cancer using liquid biopsies. Circulating Tumour Cells (CTCs) are cancer cells that detach from the primary tumour and utilise blood as a method of transportation to move around the body to metastasize. I primarily focus on detecting these tumour cells from whole blood based on expression of specific proteins as well as assessing any differences in their size when compared to normal white blood cells. Currently, I am measuring CTC levels in late-stage patients undergoing chemotherapy to determine whether there is a correlation with CA125 and efficacy of treatment.Through my observations and data analyses, I aim to provide a better insight into the liquid-biopsy based biomarker discovery that can aid in diagnosis and/or prognosis.
While my current work focuses on advanced stage patients, I hope to further translate my knowledge of potential biomarkers towards their suitability for earlier detection - as this will have a greater impact on overall survival. My team and I at CBCEL led by Dr Karteris are also working on additional approaches towards liquid biopsies such as circulating tumour DNA testing, capable of enhancing the ability to gather vital information about cancer progression at a genetic level.