Cabrini researcher leads an international effort to understand a rare form of ovarian cancer

Date: 14/04/2021

Cabrini researcher Associate Professor Yoland Antill, together with Professor Clare Scott from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, and Professor Ian Campbell and Associate Professor Kylie Gorringe from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, have tackled an important question about the origin of a rare and unique subtype of ovarian cancer, mucinous ovarian carcinoma (MOC). Their findings will impact MOC treatment guidelines and patient outcomes worldwide. The international study effort was published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications and has taken out the Cabrini Research Publication of the Year Award.

The origin of MOC has long been controversial, including whether it genuinely arises within the ovary or it is a metastatic cancer from another organ. The tumour has long been recognised as having different associated risk factors and poorer responses to traditional therapies used for advanced ovarian cancer.

A/Prof Antill explained that ovarian cancer was comprised of several different histological types, but the MOC subtype was the odd one out.

“So much so that the scientific community was divided as to whether this cancer could ever be a primary ovarian tumour and not a metastasis from another organ,” A/Prof Antill said.

“Our research findings were able to resolve this debate and will have a huge impact on how we treat patients.” 

Associate Professor Yoland Antill

Associate Professor Yoland Antill

Due to the rarity of MOC, the study team needed to take an international approach to amass enough MOC tumours to provide definitive evidence. More than 500 tumour samples from four countries (Australia, UK, USA and Canada) were reviewed clinically and pathologically to collect a study sample of 255 confirmed primary MOC samples. To generate the highest quality data, whole genome, exome, and targeted sequencing were performed to allow integration of mutation, copy number, gene expression, clinical and histo-pathological data, and unique patient data over space and time. The extensive data collection enabled the research team to establish that MOC represents a cancer that has progressive molecular evolution with shared abnormalities from the earliest precancerous lesions to advanced high grade tumours together with accumulated mutations, genomic instability as the tumour moves from precancerous to benign, low grade and finally high grade status. While the cell of origin has not yet been established, it is highly likely the tumour develops at the ovary and are not metastases from other sites. The study also identified a novel amplicon driving invasive disease, representative of the role of copy number complexity in patient outcomes. This is the first time that molecular genetic features of MOC have been associated with disease survival.

The scale of this work relative to the rarity of MOC means it is unlikely to be superseded. The findings are highly clinically relevant, with implications for diagnosis, prognosis and targeted therapy for one of the rarest subtypes of ovarian cancer.

To foster and reward outstanding achievements, Cabrini Research established the Publication of the Year Award in 2020 to celebrate exceptional contributions to research. Awarded annually as part of the Cabrini Research Sessions program, the Publication of the Year Award recognises the most important published discovery during the last two calendar years, recognising innovative approaches, conceptual advances, high quality data and impact on patient health and wellbeing and/or health service delivery. Cabrini Research Sessions is a virtual zoom series running fortnightly on Wednesday’s at 12pm. The sessions are aimed at sharing and highlighting the research, quality and innovation projects currently being undertaken at Cabrini Health. These sessions are an opportunity for researchers to showcase their incredible work and for others to hear from leaders in their field. Everyone is welcome.

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