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Yiyan Zheng

Dr Yiyan Zheng, researcher, said: “If we carry on with our work on resistance to paclitaxel, I hope we can improve drug response for more patients who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”

Lead researcher:

Professor Ahmed Ahmed

Location: University of Oxford

Research strand: Treatment

With very few treatment options for ovarian cancer, when women become resistant to one of the two key drugs used in chemotherapy, there are few alternatives. Many women will eventually develop resistance to taxane drugs (such as paclitaxel or taxol) – it is a formidable problem. Overcoming this resistance to chemotherapy is a major challenge and a key priority in Target Ovarian Cancer’s research strategy. By tackling this challenge, we aim to make treatments more effective and improve survival from ovarian cancer. 

It has been shown previously that microtubules, whihc act like scaffolding within a cell, can influence how tumour cells respond to paclitaxel chemotherapy. Professor Ahmed's team has been looking at how microtubules are involved in resistance to paclitaxel. Their goal has been to improve the effectiveness of paclitaxel by including other drugs that make cancer cells more suscpetible to damage done by this type of chemotherapy.

The team has shown, using cell lines in the laboratory, how an enzyme called FER regulates the stability of microtubules in ovarian cancer cells. They have also shown that tumour cells can become more sensitive to paclitaxel when FER is prevented from working properly, by removing it or targeting it with a specific small molecule. These results are an important achievement, which could be translated to patients to develop more effective therapies. 

Professor Ahmed said, "These results provide strong evidence that by targeting FER we can improve the effectiveness of paclitaxel in killing tumour cells. The small molecules that target FER could potentially be developed into new drugs for ovarian cancer, to enhance the effectiveness of paclitaxel treatment."

This project funding is now complete.