Using an immune protein to stop ovarian cancer growth

Monday, 21 August, 2023

Using an immune protein to stop ovarian cancer growth

In research published by the Nature journal, Melbourne scientists have examined how the body’s own immune system can be used to stop the progression of ovarian cancer.

Professor Paul Hertzog’s research group at Hudson Institute of Medical Research has expanded the discovery of a naturally occurring signalling protein found in the female reproductive tract, interferon epsilon (IFN-e), and its potential application in treatment of ovarian cancer.

This involves harnessing the body’s own system of signalling proteins to fight the disease, according to the researchers.

Part of the research group is Dr Nicole Campbell, who has looked at how treatments which target the body’s immune system can be optimised to improve its ability to fight the tumour. This also formed the PhD project of Dr Zoe Marks, which established that the protein protects against ovarian cancer via tumour cells as well as the body’s immune system.

“We know that in high grade serous ovarian cancers (the commonest form of ovarian cancer) tumour cells recruit and activate ‘immunosuppressive’ cells which prevent anti-tumour immune cells from killing tumour cells, so we’re aiming to develop new therapeutics which can reverse that process and improve survival rates,” Dr Campbell said.

This work was co-supervised by post-doctoral scientist Dr Nollaig Bourke, who found that women with high grade serous ovarian cancer no longer had the normal expression of interferon epsilon.

“We tried giving interferon epsilon back to help block the growth of ovarian cancer cells and therefore prevent the growth of primary and secondary tumours. The results were very striking, confirming that interferon epsilon was a very effective tumour suppressor in ovarian cancer,” Bourke said.

Hertzog said that the study explained that interferon epsilon works “as a tumour suppressant, and that it is lost during the process of ovarian tumour formation”.

“We know from pre-clinical models that administering it will dramatically inhibit ovarian cancer growth, particularly in cases where the cancer has metastasised into the peritoneal cavity,” Hertzog said.

The full study, ‘Interferon-ε is a novel tumour suppressor and restricts ovarian cancer’, can be found here.

Image caption: Dr Zoe Marks, Professor Paul Hertzog and Dr Nicole Campbell. Credit: Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

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