30 March 2017

Discovery of Enzyme Can Lead to New Treatment for Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer

A research group at the University of Copenhagen has discovered an enzyme that plays a main role in the development of ovarian cancer. The next step is to learn whether treatment can stop the development of the enzyme. Patients with ovarian cancer often develop resistance to chemotherapy, and there is therefore a great need for new forms of treatment.

Today patients with ovarian cancer are treated with chemotherapy, but many quickly develop resistance to chemo. There is therefore a need for new forms of treatment. Researchers at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen have just announced in a new study that they have discovered an enzyme that plays a main role in the treatment of this type of cancer. In fact, the enzyme may be the cause of the cancer.

’We have found an enzyme that is overactive in patients with ovarian cancer. The enzyme is a co-called kinase, which is a popular drug target, and there is therefore a range of drugs which can be used against it. We have used a specific antagonist of the enzyme which stunts the growth of the cancer cells, but does not appear to have any major effect on the surrounding healthy cells. The antagonist has not been developed into a drug yet, but is in the first phase of clinical testing,’ says Professor Jesper Olsen, who heads the group at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research.

Unfortunately, the chances of surviving ovarian cancer are not great. Only 20-40 per cent are still alive five years after having been diagnosed. Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are not obvious, the disease is often not diagnosed until it has reached a very advanced stage.

Fighting Resistance
Together with a group in Milan the group at SUND has analysed cancer cells and compared them to healthy cells. In this way they have been able to identify the cell signalling pathways that are overactive in the cancer cells and found the responsible enzyme.  

’We have used a specific selection method for analysing these cells. Our collaborators in Milan have been able to take cell samples from patients suffering from ovarian cancer. Then they have established a cell culture system allowing them to grow a larger population of cells. From these cells they have extracted the relevant proteins, which is the part of the cells our research focuses on’, says Jesper Olsen.

Just as patients quickly develop resistance to chemotherapy, unfortunately, in time they also become resistant to the antagonists. Therefore, the next step for the researchers is to find even more drug targets useful for therapeutic treatment of ovarian cancer. 

The study ’Phosphoproteomics of Primary Cells Reveals Druggable Kinase Signatures in Ovarian Cancer’ has just been published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

Jesper Olsen, email: jesper.olsen@cpr.ku.dk, phone: +45 35 32 50 22, mobile: +45 24 42 59 56