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New Research Uncovers Key Molecule in Ovarian Cancer

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Key Points

  • Ovarian cancer “spheroids” activate a stress signal, and the major molecule controlling this signal is LKB1.
  • Researchers say LKB1 allows ovarian cancer spheroids to change their metabolism, promote tumor cell survival, and makes them more resistant to chemotherapy.
  • Currently, no therapies or drugs target LKB1.

Scientists at Lawson Health Research Institute have uncovered an important new target for ovarian cancer therapy. Contrary to current research, this new study found that LKB1, a molecule that regulates the metabolism of many adult cells, is important in the cancer's promotion and survival. These findings were published by Peart et al in Oncotarget.

Even though ovarian cancer continues to be one of the most serious of women's cancers, there is a lack in reliable early detection tests and few treatment options. By the time of diagnosis, the majority of women with ovarian cancer already have experienced extensive metastasis, which makes it difficult to treat by surgery or chemotherapy. According to Trevor Shepherd, PhD, what is even more concerning is the propensity of the disease to keep coming back until it is eventually resistant to therapy.

Study Details

In order to find out how and why ovarian cancer cells grow and take on such lethal characteristics, Dr. Shepherd and his team grow these cancer cells in three-dimensional structures called “spheroids”—the same way the cancer cells grow in patients. Spheroids are sticky and can attach themselves to different organs, such as the uterus, liver, stomach, or small intestine. Here, they can sit dormant and unnoticed for months or years before growing and becoming resistant to chemotherapy.

Recently, Dr. Shepherd’s laboratory discovered that the spheroids activate a stress signal, and the major molecule controlling this signal is called LKB1. “Previous studies stated that LKB1 was a tumor suppressor in ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Shepherd, “but our work is in direct conflict with these studies, because we definitively show that ovarian cancer cells still have LKB1 and that this molecule allows ovarian cancer spheroids to change their metabolism and promote tumor cell survival, making them more resistant to chemotherapy.”

With these new findings, Dr. Shepherd and his colleagues have uncovered a novel target for future therapy. “There are currently no therapies or drugs that target LKB1,” stated Dr. Shepherd. “Based on these findings, our lab is exploring several different strategies to understand and target LKB1 and its related molecules in ovarian cancer spheroids, and developing the essential preclinical models to see if this can be translated to ovarian cancer patients.”

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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