UTSW Partners on Study That Could Lead to Earlier Detection of Ovarian Cancer

Researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and UT Southwestern analyzed T-cell receptors in nearly 500 blood samples from pre-diagnostic patients with ovarian cancer. The results point to the potential of testing for biomarkers 2 to 4 years before most cases of HGOC are currently diagnosed.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, working with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, have helped to discover a novel immune-based biomarker that could pave the way for potential lifesaving early detection of high-grade ovarian cancer (HGOC).

The research findings were published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine.

“Early detection of ovarian cancer could mean the difference between life and death for millions of women,” Bo Li, Ph.D., a core faculty member in the Center for Computational and Genomic Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a statement. “We believe our findings can be a gamechanger, providing insights for the development of an immune-based biomarker to detect early-stage ovarian cancers, as well as helping to potentially advance pediatric cancer research.”

During the study, researchers at UT Southwestern and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) analyzed T-cell receptors (TCRs) in nearly 500 blood samples from pre-diagnostic patients with ovarian cancer, as well as healthy/benign controls from the Nurses’ Health Study.

The hospital said that TCRs are proteins found on T cells, a type of immune cell that recognizes and binds to foreign substances.

Pointing to potential testing 2 to 4 years before most cases of HGOC are currently diagnosed

The analysis showed that in the early stages of HGOC, roughly two to four years before most cases of HGOC are currently diagnosed, a healthier immune system reacts significantly stronger, producing a measurable biomarker.

Researchers deduced, therefore, that tracking the disease within that specific timeframe, before a shift in the body’s immune response, allowed for earlier treatment interventions.

The researchers said additional research is needed to aid in the development of a diagnostic test sensitive enough to detect the novel immune biomarker. They see testing as a complement to currently approved HGOC screening protocols.

Sample collection was partially supported by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UT Southwestern.

More on ovarian cancer and CHOP

According to the American Cancer Society, high-grade ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer-related death among women. Researchers said that more than 90% of women are diagnosed when the disease has reached advanced stages and has already spread, presenting significant treatment challenges.

The hospital said that ovarian cancer is highly treatable when caught early, but tests that look for conventional biomarkers haven’t been able to detect microscopic, metastatic early lesions that often develop in the fallopian tubes.

With this discovery of a novel immune-based biomarker, however, there is potential to change the trajectory for many women, CHOP said.

Although CHOP is a pediatric environment, its comprehensive Research Institute is dedicated to improving children’s lives and helping them thrive into adulthood through transformative solutions, such as new diagnostic tools, medicines, technologies, and policy recommendations, the hospital said. By tackling the most pressing healthcare challenges, CHOP said it dramatically advances wellness beyond pediatrics across the entire lifespan.

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