Ovarian cancer biomarker could predict treatment response and help prevent metastasis

Ovarian cancer can be particularly deadly and tough to treat. It turns out, however, that a newly discovered biomarker may help identify patients who will respond best to treatment. What's more, it could also present a target for new drugs to help prevent metastasis.

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and colleagues made the discovery, and Nature Communications published their findings.

The team focused on miR-181a, a microRNA biomarker. They determined that ovarian tumors are more likely to advance and resist chemotherapy when they have elevated levels of miR-181a, and that the biomarker also propels epithelial ovarian cancer, a subtype of the disease that affects 90% of all women with ovarian cancer. They even know how the biomarker does its damage. Apparently, miR-181a blocks expression of the Smad7 gene, leading to metastasis.

Their hope now is that they could regularly screen for miR-181a in tumor samples to determine which women would respond best to standard chemotherapy, as well as which are at the greatest risk of the cancer recurring. Separately, researchers are also now looking for potential small-molecule drugs that could block the interaction between miR-181 and Smad7.

It's a powerful finding, considering that scientists have previously not been able to predict how patients with epithelial ovarian cancer will respond to treatment. Also, the discovery opens the door to test a new treatment that would stop ovarian cancer from spreading. But the finding is early-stage. Much more research is in the cards to back up the initial discovery, which stems from an analysis of 80 human tumor samples and preclinical ovarian mouse models.

Other researchers have found some success in pursuing better ovarian cancer diagnostics. Last summer, for example, a team at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center determined that a blood test designed for the early detection of ovarian cancer showed genuine promise and results if used over time.

- read the release
- here's the journal article

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