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Supporting our researchers to increase the visibility of cancer

This year alone, more than 1600 Australian women are estimated to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer*.

Most of these women will be treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, and an ultrasound and PET imaging are often also used to assess the extent and spread of their cancer.

However, ovarian cancers are particularly difficult to locate with current ultrasound technology and the current contrast agent used for PET scans. Mater researcher Professor John Hopper and his team are developing a tool that aims to reliably and accurately show the exact location and extent of tumours, which will help to shape the way we detect cancer forever.

This could have a major impact on women like Alisi, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year at the age of 25.

A routine check-up turned into a series of events which led to Alisi being told she had stage three ovarian cancer. There were two tumours, one on each ovary—the size of grapefruits.

Two weeks after her initial diagnosis Alisi had a full hysterectomy. Unfortunately however, surgeons discovered that the cancer had also spread to some of her other organs including her diaphragm and large bowel. What was meant to be a four hour surgery, turned in to eight hours.

Through his research, using a technique developed internally at Mater Research, and in collaboration with the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at UQ and the CSIRO, Prof Hooper and his team have attached a radioactive particle to an antibody that specifically targets ovarian cancer.

Because these antibodies can only attach themselves to the specific cancer they are targeting, this technique has the potential to improve the accuracy and reliability of the PET scan technique.

If successful, this research will help clinicians better understand the exact location and extent of a patient’s cancer, if it has spread to other parts of the body (as it had for Alisi), and to better plan a patient’s treatment based on the tumour’s unique properties.

Excitingly, it is also possible that by switching the radioactive particle, the novel PET imaging agent being developed by Prof Hooper’s team may be used for treatment of ovarian cancer.

Seven months on from her initial diagnosis Alisi now has a fresh outlook on life and is making it her mission to educate people on ovarian cancer and support others out there who are going through something similar.

“The one thing that cancer has taught me is to appreciate the small things. Every day is not promised to us as life is so fragile and unpredictable—just be sure to appreciate every moment,” says Alisi.

Improving the diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer is vital because while most patients respond well to surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer often returns and there is no proven method of prevention.

*Source: https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics

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