Increasing the visibility of cancer

Tuesday 14 August 2018

In 2018,  more than 1,600 Australian women are estimated to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer*.

Most of these patients will be treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Ultrasound is often used to assess the extent of ovarian cancer, and PET imaging can also provide information about how far the cancer has spread.

However, ultrasound can lack accuracy, and the contrast agent used for PET, a radioactive sugar-like molecule called 18F-DG, can be poor at highlighting ovarian cancers.

But what if clinicians had a tool that reliably and accurately showed them the exact location and extent of the tumour?

Mater researcher Professor John Hooper and his team are working towards this goal. Using a technique developed internally at Mater Research and collaborating with the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at The University of Queensland, and the CSIRO, they have attached a radioactive particle to an antibody that specifically targets ovarian cancer.

Because these antibodies can only attach themselves to the specific cancer they are targeting, this technique has the potential to improve the accuracy and reliability of the PET scan technique.

If successful, this research will help clinicians better understand the exact location and extent of a patient’s cancer, if it has spread to other parts of the body and to better plan a patient’s treatment based on the tumour’s unique properties. 

It is also possible that by switching the radioactive particle, the novel PET imaging agent being developed by Prof Hooper’s team can actually be used for treatment of ovarian cancer. 

Improving the diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer is vital because while most patients respond well to surgery and chemotherapy, the cancer often returns and there is no proven method of prevention.