Interplay between pathologies of ovarian cancer and genomics

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Published: 15 Nov 2012
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Prof David Huntsman – University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Prof Huntsman’s team looks to find direct ways of targeting treatment and a better understanding as to why certain patient’s treatment fails in the most common types of ovarian cancer. His team also looks to better grasp the different tumour subtypes and the clinical implications for each, as well as the heterogeneity of the mutations.


Prof Huntsman also highlights the importance of translational research discussed at the 4th EUTROC.



Interplay between pathologies of ovarian cancer and genomics


Professor David Huntsman – University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

I was talking about the interplay between pathology, so what ovarian cancers are looked at and called when people look at them down a microscope, and genomics, which would be the features which you can detect by analysing the DNA and RNA from the tumours. Our team has been looking at the different subtypes of ovarian cancer and for each there are specific clinical questions we’re trying to address. In the most common type of ovarian cancer we’re trying to tease out how heterogeneous these tumours are with the differences within each tumour. Our group is working on this and there are several other groups around the world who are working on it and we are using this meeting as a way to establish better collaboration.


What are some of your team’s goals?

For some types of ovarian cancer through our findings we hope we’ll be able to discover direct ways of targeting treatment. For the most common type of ovarian cancer we may get a better understanding of why today’s treatment is failing for many patients and then be able to address that.


What do you feel is the importance of translational research?

Whether we call it translational research or not, if there isn’t a movement of new knowledge which comes from more fundamental research into clinical practice then there will be no healthcare benefit from research. So this movement of knowledge into practice is essential if we’re going to improve the health of our population. Translational research is the name we call this process so it doesn’t replace the need for strong fundamental research or what could be considered strict clinical research but it’s the middle part of the puzzle which is needed if we’re going to make any progress.


What impact will you see with your research?

Our team is working on several different problems. One of them is cancer prevention and we actually made some quite radical decisions there. There has been an emerging understanding that ovarian cancers, probably most of them don’t come from the ovary, they either come from the fallopian tube directly, which is the tube between the ovary and the uterus, or they come from endometriosis, which starts off in the uterus. What we’ve done in British Columbia is to change surgical practice so that whenever hysterectomies are performed the fallopian tubes are removed and we’re suggesting that when women have tubal ligations they have the ends of their fallopian tubes removed and that BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing, the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer gene testing, is offered for all women with the highest risk of ovarian cancer. Through these measures we think we may be able to decrease the incidence of ovarian cancer by up to 40%, so this is something our whole team is focussing on right now.