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Big volumes of specimen data help improve ovarian cancer prognosis

September 24, 2020

Woman ovarian cancer patient

Human biospecimens contain massive volumes of potential data that can help researchers glean surprising new insights.

That’s the case for an international team of researchers who have discovered that genetic signatures in ovarian cancer tissue can predict the patient’s survival more accurately than the combination of patient age and cancer stage.

Approximately 21,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with and 14,000 die every year from ovarian cancer, which is hard to detect. Median overall survival for women with high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC), the most common variety of ovarian cancer, is about four years, yet actual survival varies widely among patients, according to the researchers. Treatment has largely been the same for all women who have ovarian cancer.

Tumor samples drive discovery

The researchers, led by the University of New South Wales, studied tumor tissue from nearly 4,000 HGSOC patients and were able to predict five-year survival more accurately by their gene expression than by working from a woman’s age and cancer stage alone. The researchers created five survival groups corresponding to five patterns of gene expression.

“We found that the women whose tumor gene expression was associated with the best prognosis had nine years survival, whereas the women in the poorest survival group have two years survival, which is a very big difference,” said lead author Professor Susan Ramus from UNSW Medicine.

“Our vision is that clinicians could use our test at diagnosis to identify the group of patients who wouldn’t do well on the current treatments and potentially offer them alternatives – for example, we may be able to put those patients into clinical trials and offer them different treatments that may improve their survival.”

FFPE tumor tissue helps uncover insights

Researchers used machine learning to analyze formalin-fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tumor tissue from 3,769 HGSOC patients from multiple studies, as reported in the Annals of Oncology. The research paper led by UNSW Medicine involved 125 authors across 86 organizations, including University of Southern California (USC), University of Cambridge, University of British Columbia, Huntsman Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, and Peter MacCallum Cancer Center in Melbourne. To validate the findings further, the research team says it hopes to include the test in a prospective study and clinical trials.

iSpecimen is dedicated to helping researchers like these obtain the biospecimens and data they need to make lifesaving and life-extending discoveries like this one.

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