Today we announce our newest gold-standard research project at the University of Manchester. Professor Richard Edmondson and his team will look in detail at DNA damage and repair in ovarian cancer cells, which will help to better target and personalise treatments for women with ovarian cancer.
Damage to DNA is a common event; it is estimated that there are a thousand breaks in the DNA of each normal cell in our bodies every day. The vast majority of these breaks are put back together by some clever mechanisms in our cells called DNA damage response pathways.
Most, if not all, cancer cells have some problems with one or more of their DNA damage response pathways. Damaged DNA then collects in the cancer cells, which can enable cancers to grow. Our new research project will explore defects in the DNA damage response pathways in ovarian cancer tumours, which prevent DNA from being repaired.
Exploiting instability in cancer cells
DNA damage is also one of the main ways that cancer cells develop the instability that distinguishes them from normal cells. That makes them vulnerable and is the reason that chemotherapy drugs affect cancer cells more than normal cells. Different drugs target different vulnerabilities so understanding how the DNA damage response pathways are altered in different cancers should allow a more accurate targeting of drugs. This will ensure that we get the most effective treatment for each and every cancer
Professor Richard Edmondson’s project will look at developing new techniques for identifying which DNA damage response pathways are not working in specific ovarian cancer tumours. Once researchers know more about it, this crucial knowledge can be shared with clinicians and oncologists, to ensure that the most effective treatment is prescribed for each individual.
A first in ovarian cancer
We currently have few ways of predicting which treatments will be most effective for individual ovarian tumours. Work to improve the targeting of treatments begins soon in Manchester, which will also help to identify the treatments likely to work best in each patient. It will enable women to get the best treatments for them, while saving others from treatment regimen that are less effective so they can have a better quality of life.
Starting with PARP inhibitors
We’ve already seen a handful of treatments developed for ovarian cancer that use vulnerabilities in ovarian cancer cells - for example, PARP inhibitors such as olaparib (Lynparza ®). PARP inhibitors stop a particular mechanism of DNA repair. This is lethal for the cancer cell, but does not damage normal cells in the body. Once our researchers have looked more closely at DNA damage pathways, clinicians will have the tools they need to give exactly the right ovarian cancer drugs, depending on the nature of the tumour and the DNA damage pathways present.
Professor Richard Edmondson said: “We are looking forward to starting this important project in January 2018. There is a growing need for new clinical tests to aid selection of the right treatment for each patient. By translating our knowledge of the DNA damage response into clinical practice, doctors would be able to select the best personalised treatments, including PARP inhibitors, for women with ovarian cancer.”
Target Ovarian Cancer Chief Executive Annwen Jones said: “The delivery of targeted, more effective, treatments for women with ovarian cancer lies at the heart of Target Ovarian Cancer’s new research strategy. This innovative project led by Professor Richard Edmondson and his world-class research team at the University of Manchester represents a major step forward in realising this ambition. That such groundbreaking work can now proceed once again demonstrates the importance of our UK-wide ovarian cancer research funding programme and the critical difference made by the fundraising and donations of our supporters.”