Because of unusually close “town-gown” cooperation among cancer specialists, Tampa Bay researchers have come a step closer to developing the first mass screenings for Ovarian cancer.
This week, the National Cancer Institute awarded a $3.5 million grant to H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute at the University of South Florida to expand its search for telltale signs of the disease that can be found in a blood sample.
Such a test could save the lives of thousands of women each year and keep many high-risk patients from having their ovaries removed at a young age as a precaution. It also could yield a valuable patent for Moffitt and USF.
“There are numerous biotech companies who would be interested in commercializing this kind of test,” said Rebecca Sutphen, director of clinical genetics at Moffitt and principal investigator for the grant.
In fact, Moffitt has filed a patent-protection application on its initial research in the field, published last year in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.
In that study, which used unlabeled blood samples from sick and healthy patients, Sutphen’s group was able to detect which blood came from the cancer patients 93 percent of the time by looking for a fatty substance produced by Ovarian cancer cells.
The study indicated that the substance, lysophosphatidic acid, or LPA, would be useful but not sufficient for an accurate test, Sutphen said.
As the research proceeds, her team will use proteomics, a sophisticated type of protein analysis, on the samples to uncover other substances that serve as a cross-check.
A reliable blood test for Ovarian cancer would be as valuable to women as the PSA screen for prostate cancer is for men. It would be a necessary part of any physical.
Moffitt’s high score in the NCI grant competition came in part from its prior successful project. Another factor was the enthusiastic support of private doctors in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who diagnose and treat Ovarian cancers. They find 200 cases in the area each year, so Sutphen could promise rapid enrollment in the new study. She seeks 250 cancer patients and a total enrollment of 1,000 women.
Moffitt’s partners in the project are Hector Arango of Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater; James LaPolla at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg; Mitchell Hoffman at Tampa General Hospital; and the Bay Area Oncology group.
Less than one-fourth of Ovarian cancers are found at an early stage, when the cure rate is high. Most are not diagnosed until they have spread to other organs. As a result, Ovarian cancer is the No. 4 cancer killer of women even though it is only the seventh-most common form of the disease.
“If there was a test that could find Ovarian cancer at its early stage, that would be such a huge gift to our community,” said Sue Friedman, director of a national nonprofit support group for women at high risk of breast and Ovarian cancer.
Friedman said she moved the mostly volunteer organization, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, to Tampa from Coral Springs last year because of the promising research going on at Moffitt.
Source: Tampa Tribune
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD