Yale Makes Possible Breakthrough in Ovarian Cancer Treatment

By Carolyn Freer
|  Monday, Jan 10, 2011  |  Updated 10:38 AM CDT
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A team of researchers at the Yale School of Medicine believe they have found a vulnerability in ovarian cancer cells and they hope to use that to kill the deadly tumors.

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Researchers at Yale University might have found a way to defeat the fifth most lethal cancer in women.

A team of researchers at the Yale School of Medicine believe they have found a vulnerability in ovarian cancer cells and they hope to use that to kill the deadly tumors.

The team, led by Dr. Yingqun Huang, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, found that shutting down two genes in ovarian cancer stem cells stops the cell from growing.

Huang and other researchers discovered the link between stem cells and ovarian cancer while studying human embryonic stem cells and finding that certain ovarian cancer cells express two particular stem cell proteins, called Lin28 and Oct4. Stopping these two proteins from expressing their function appeared to inhibit growth of the cells.

They also found that the two proteins appear to act together in ovarian cancer tissue cells to produce more advanced tumors. Inhibiting their combined expression led to a significant decrease in the growth and survival of cancer cells. A larger-scale ovarian cancer study is currently underway to confirm the significance of the findings.

Genetic researchers prevent genes from performing their function, "knocking down" the gene, by inserting small interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules into the cells. The next steps in the team's research will be to examine the effect of siRNA in ovarian cancer samples in the lab, and to test the technique on mice. If successful, human trials would follow. Treatment on cancer patients could come within 10 years, Huang said.

"We hope we will soon be able to apply this new information to improve outcomes, perhaps by developing better diagnostic markers and treatment strategies that may be useful in customizing treatment for ovarian cancer patients," said Huang.

Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect in its early stages. It is also challenging to treat because it tends to recur frequently and develop resistance to treatment. According to the Merck Manual online, ovarian cancer was responsible for about 15,000 deaths in 2008.

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