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OCRF commits almost $1.8 million in new funding to ovarian cancer research during ovarian cancer awareness month

Teal ribbon awareness on woman's hand for Ovarian Cancer

Australia’s Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) today awarded new grants totaling almost $1.8 million to three researchers leading the fight against ovarian cancer.

The latest round of grants adds to the $1 million in ovarian cancer research projects already receiving funding from OCRF. The OCRF has funded almost $10 million in research projects over the past five years.

February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and a timely reminder of the importance of research into this disease, which has no early detection test and poor survival rates. The OCRF is the only not-for-profit organisation providing dedicated funding for ovarian cancer research in Australia.

The three new grants focus on finding an early detection test and better treatment options for the disease that kills one woman in Australia every eight hours.

The OCRF’s Chief Executive Officer Robin Penty said more than 1800 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year – more than four women every day – and only 889 of those women will still be alive in five years.

“The OCRF funds research to save women’s lives,” Ms Penty said. “We have the expertise to identify ovarian cancer research projects that will have the greatest impact on the largest number of women and girls.

“Ovarian cancer is the most lethal female cancer yet remains critically underfunded. Unless this changes, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and friends will keep dying.”

She said research into early detection and better treatment options were essential to save women’s lives.  “Patients usually receive a ‘one size fits all’ treatment plan of surgery followed by generic chemotherapy. Outcomes are extremely poor, with a five-year survival rate of just 49 percent.”

Former Foreign Minister and OCRF ambassador Julie Bishop said: “Ovarian cancer is an insidious disease with vague symptoms, so about 70 percent of women are already at an advanced stage when they are diagnosed.

“The lack of an early detection test remains the biggest barrier to improving survival rates. Research is our best hope,” Ms Bishop said. “These OCRF grants will fund research to help find an early detection test – and better treatment options – for Australian women and girls.”

About 80 percent of ovarian cancer patients suffer recurrence after initially responding to chemotherapy. In most cases, chemotherapy stops working altogether and most patients are then left with no other treatment options.

Professor Brian Gabrielli, of Mater Research, is heading a combined team from the Mater Research Institute and The University of Queensland to test a new treatment approach that increases the ability of a patient’s own immune system to recognise and attack tumour cells – like immunotherapy, which is successful in treating melanoma and some lung cancers. The aim is a more effective and less toxic treatment than chemotherapy.

There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer. About 70 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are already at an advanced stage of the disease.

Associate Professor Jason Lee and his team from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute are working to increase the survival rate of ovarian cancer patients by focusing on circular RNAs as the foundations of an early detection test. Their research intends to not only provide a method of early diagnosis, but also to provide an early indication if a patient in remission is likely to experience cancer recurrence.

Professor Michael Jennings and the team from Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics discovered a sugar-based marker in blood and bodily fluids to predict early disease. The OCRF funding will allow the team to refine understanding of the biomarker to develop it for early detection of ovarian cancer.

Gold Coast doctor Shabnam Gujadhur was 30 years old when she was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer in March 2022. “Ovarian cancer is a silent killer and an ignored killer,” she said. “When I started having symptoms, I brushed it off, telling myself ‘just get over it’.”

After experiencing symptoms for several weeks, Dr Gujadhur saw a doctor. Initial tests disclosed abnormal results and she was referred for surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

“I remember being told ‘unfortunately, it’s not good news’. I was given the diagnosis of endometriosis and ovarian cancer, the latter two words which completely changed my life.

“I was diagnosed with a stage 1 mixed dysgerminoma and gonadoblastoma. While I consider myself as one of those lucky ones, since my cancer was picked at an early stage, the next 12 months for me are critical due to the high risk of recurrence.

“There is not one single day where I do not wake up, fearing that the cancer will return, fearing that I will need to take my right ovary out, fearing that I will not be able to conceive in the future.”

The OCRF funds innovative ovarian cancer research to save women’s lives through early detection and personalised treatment.

The OCRF is also collaborating with the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) to seek Federal Government funding for a pilot program to demonstrate the efficacy of a precision medicine approach for all people diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

The Precision Medicine Promise is a research-led model that would revolutionise the standard of care – long term and short term – for women with ovarian cancer.

As part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, the OCRF will hold its annual Walk With Women event to raise money for ovarian cancer research. It is a physical walk along the Mornington Peninsula on February 12 (30km and 5km distances, both concluding at Sorrento foreshore) or a virtual walk, where participants can choose how and where the walk in the month of February.

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