Blocking the Spread of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most lethal cancer among American women, and it accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, feeling of fullness, or urinary tract complaints. The cancer mainly develops in older women, after menopause — about half are 63 or older. It is frequently diagnosed in a late stage, and not until after the cancer has metastasized, rendering it incurable. The odds of a woman contracting ovarian cancer in her lifetime is 1 in 75, and not much better – 1 in a 100 – of dying from it.

Fortunately, scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago are hard at work evening those odds, and they have just made a breakthrough. They have found that blocking a protein found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells could prevent or reduce the spread of the disease to another organ.

“The greatest barrier to our ability to treat cancer in this stage is that we know very little about the molecules that cause the disease to spread,” said Maria Barbolina, associate professor of biopharmaceutical sciences and lead researcher of the study. “The goal of our research is to identify key molecules that govern metastasis and use them as targets for the development of new drugs.”

The researchers conjectured that biomolecules successfully targeted with drugs in other cancers might also be targets in metastatic ovarian cancer. In earlier research, the U Illinois team learned that a particular protein found on the surface of the cell is expressed in the majority of ovarian cancer cases. When stimulated by another protein that binds to it, this biochemical compound – called a fractalkine receptor – could help the cancer spread to other organs throughout the body

Barbolina demonstrated in a mouse model that by lowering production of this fractalkine receptor, tumors did not metastasize to nearby sites of the peritoneal wall, bowel or liver.

Barbolina reasoned that, since nearly a third of all cancer drugs target G protein-coupled receptors, of which fractalkine is one, “blocking it may prevent or reduce ovarian cancer metastasis, because

it’s expressed in 64 percent of metastatic ovarian carcinoma specimens.”

The research has been published in the journal Oncogene.