Mater biobank donors lead fight against ovarian cancer


Researchers at Mater Hospital Brisbane are encouraging women with gynaecological cancers to donate to the state’s only live tissue biobank in a bid to improve patient outcomes.

The South Brisbane hospital runs the state’s only program using live collections of gynaecological tissue samples to improve treatments of aggressive cancers.

The live tissue samples provide a better result compared with cryopreserved cells, where the samples can be damaged during freezing and thawing methods, causing cells to die.

Instead, researchers can use and manipulate a patient’s living cancer cells in a petri dish, or even grow them in a pre-clinical model to better understand how ovarian cancer develops, and find the cancer’s weak points that might be susceptible to novel therapies.

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynaecological cancer, with a five-year survival rate of 49 per cent.

According to Federal Government data, gynaecological cancer accounts for around 9 per cent of cancers diagnosed in females and around 10 per cent of female cancer deaths.

Mater Research Pathology and Clinical Coordinator Kaltin Ferguson manages Mater’s Gynaecological and Breast Cancer Biobank, which has been running for 10 years, said more donors are needed to come forward to support ground-breaking medical research.

He said that more than 1000 live tissue samples have been donated and that having access to ovarian tissue was “crucial” as it allowed researchers to continue their work with the aim of developing targeted treatment for ovarian cancer patients.

With consent from patients diagnosed with ovarian and endometrial cancer undergoing treatment at Mater Hospital Brisbane, the live tissue samples are passed onto the Mater Pathology team to determine a diagnosis, and where possible additional samples given to the research team.

Mr Ferguson said the biobank allowed researchers to experiment with new drugs, including chemotherapy, on live tissues to assess their responsiveness.

“Our aim is to improve treatments and survival rates for women with ovarian cancer,” Mr Ferguson said.

“The fresh tissue gets to researchers within half an hour for testing.”

Professor Brian Gabrielli of Mater Research is using live tissue samples to help find a new treatment to increase immune response to ovarian cancer without side effects.

Prof Gabrielli’s research focus is on the chemotherapy drug hydroxyurea, combined with targeted inhibitors of checkpoint kinase 1, which plays an important role in regulating the body’s response to DNA damage.

With funding from the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, researchers are testing their treatment approach to increase the ability of a patient’s own immune system to recognise and attack tumour cells.

“Approximately 80 per cent of ovarian cancer patients suffer a relapse after initially responding to chemotherapy,” Prof Gabrielli said.

“Often chemotherapy stops working all together and most patients are then left without other options. This has been the case for approximately 30 years, which is why we urgently need to explore new therapies and treatment approaches.

“By developing a treatment that increases the ability of immune cells to defend the body against ovarian cancer, this important project could increase long-term survival and quality of life for patients without the debilitating side effects of current chemotherapy treatment.”

Mr Ferguson said tissue samples were also used by The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and Queensland Institute of Medical Research.

Ovarian cancer survivor Negin Rose Goudarzi, from Hamilton on Brisbane’s northside, donated her live tissue samples to the biobank following a hysterectomy procedure at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane.

The 42-year-old was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February, and was determined to give other women a better chance at fighting the disease.

Now cancer-free, Ms Goudarzi said she was the first person in her family to be diagnosed with cancer.

“The first thing I thought about were my parents and my husband,” she said.

“I was married only three years ago to my husband and I had a sister who passed away in a car accident 15 years ago – I had to fight this disease for my family.

“I could not see my parents go through more trauma.”

Ms Goudarzi, an IT engineer, is now receiving immunotherapy after enduring six rounds of chemotherapy and HIPEC treatment, which involved delivering high doses of chemotherapy into the abdomen.

“I thought that even if my cancer was incurable, I have already contributed to future generations by helping them to have better medications against cancer,” she said.

“I feel wonderful. I urge other patients to participate in research and make a difference for the future generations by helping them eliminate women’s cancer.”

To learn more about the Gynaecological and Breast Cancer Biobank, click here.

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