Singapore scientists make breakthroughs in ovarian cancer

SINGAPORE- Scientists in Singapore have made new breakthroughs in ovarian cancer.

A team from the Institute of Medical Biology successfully identified a biomarker of ovarian stem cells, which may mean earlier detection and treatment of ovarian cancer.

Led by Professor Nicholas Barker, the team has identified a molecule, known as Lgr5, on cells from the tissue covering the ovary. Using Lgr5 as an indicator of ovarian stem cells, scientists are able to monitor the development of these cells and detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage.

"Researchers have been intensively looking for markers of ovary stem cells for decades so that identification of Lgr5 as a specific marker is a major breakthrough," Prof Barker said.

"We can now rigorously investigate if these stem cells are the origin of human ovarian cancer and if so, how to target and eradicate them," he added.

Currently, ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage due to the absence of early warning symptoms. Successful treatment is difficult at this late stage resulting in high mortality rates.

Ovarian cancer is now the fifth most common cancer in Singapore among women, with about 280 cases diagnosed annually and 90 deaths a year.

Scientists at the Bioinformatics Institute have also found a gene called Checkpoint Kinase 2, which is an effective indicator of patient survival among those with high-grade serious ovarian carcinoma(HG-SOC). This is one of the most lethal ovarian cancers. Only 30 per cent of patients with this cancer survive more than five years after diagnoses.

The discovery would allow doctors to classify patients into different sub-groups based on risk and better personalise treatments for them, said Executive Director of BII Frank Eisenhaber.