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Simple test could improve ovarian cancer treatment

Researchers say new blood test could help doctors to determine how different patients will respond to certain cancer-busting drugs

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A new blood test could prove pivotal in helping doctors to determine which ovarian cancer patients may benefit from certain treatments.

Scientists from The University of Manchester and The Christie Hospital, both of which are part of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, say that this simple test could be implemented in hospitals across the country within the next few years.

It would mean that medics could see which patients could benefit from certain drugs whilst still undergoing conventional therapy. The test would also enable them to identify patients unlikely to benefit from the same drugs. Consequently, these patients would not be required to undergo the treatment, eliminating the risk of any potential negative side effects. The whole process would save the NHS valuable time and money.

Professor Caroline Dive of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, based at The University of Manchester, said: “We will now look to further explore the potential of using a blood test to personalise treatment for ovarian cancer patients.

“Moving towards a more individualised treatment plan specific to each patient and their particular tumour is key to improving outcomes for patients while sparing those unlikely to benefit from potential side effects of therapy.”

The standard treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery and chemotherapy, although this procedure has not led to a noticeable improvement in survival rates over the past few decades. This has prompted scientists to search for new strategies to enhance the current approach.

One such strategy is the use of blood vessel-targeting drugs, which work by slowing the growth of blood vessels within a tumour. This prevents the cancer from receiving vital nutrients. One of these drugs, Bevacizumab, has been trialled worldwide for the past decade and its use has resulted in modest improvements in patient survival rates.

Professor Gordon Jayson, Professor of Medical Oncology at The University of Manchester and Honorary Consultant at The Christie Hospital, said: “We are keen to identify predictive biomarkers—measures that can indicate how well a patient will respond to treatment—so we can better target these drugs to patients most likely to benefit.

“We investigated levels of a range of proteins in patients’ pre-treatment blood samples to see if any were associated with improved survival.”

The research team from Manchester studied blood samples of patients enrolled in an international trial of Bevacizumab. They found that two proteins—Ang1 and Tie2—could be used to predict how the patient would respond. It was discovered that patients with high levels of Ang1 and low levels of Tie2 were very likely to benefit from the drug, whereas the same treatment would not be worthwhile for patients with high levels of both proteins.