Sunday 20th January 2019
Past Research

Early Stage Ovarian Cancer




PROJECT TITLE:  Identification of Prospective Serum Antibodies for the Diagnosis of Early Stage Ovarian Cancer

PROJECT TIMESCALE:  3 years – May 2011 to April 2014

RESEARCHER:  Gavin Batman

Gavin Batman

This project was funded by The Humane Research Trust in collaboration with Quest Cancer Research and the Caring Cancer Trust and we are truly delighted with the progress made. It is our belief that the proof-of-principle established by this study will not only give new understanding regarding the cause of ovarian cancer but also provide the means to uncover the cause of many other diseases which are termed ‘idiopathic’ ie having no known cause. If our predictions are upheld we believe this work will provide a fitting tribute to Margaret Pritchard who had faith in our scientific vision.

Ovarian cancer is the 5th most common cause of women’s deaths from cancer in the UK and it is most commonly found in post-menopausal women with >70% of cases being diagnosed in women aged >65. The disease is characterized by a range of nondescript symptoms which makes the developing tumour notoriously hard to diagnose. The result of this is that it is most often detected when tumour is approximately the size of a large onion. Most significantly, it has been calculated that, in order to reduce the death rate from ovarian cancer by just 50%, the tumour would need to be detected when it was roughly the size of a peppercorn. This is not an easy task and scientists have been looking for so-called “bio-markers” of early stage ovarian cancer for decades with the ultimate aim to develop a simple blood test which could detect the disease before it has progressed beyond being treatable. We speculated that the answer to this problem may lie in improved understanding of what actually causes ovarian cancer.

There is some evidence that specific types of unknown infection may play a role in causing this disease although trying to identify what these might be is rather like looking for a needle in a haystack. Why is it so difficult? Simply put, until now it has not been possible to identify either current or past infections in patients without first having an idea of what to look for. This means that the diagnosis of known infections is very much hit and miss and that detection of any unknown infections is virtually impossible. This is further complicated by the fact that cancer-causing infections may produce damage which leads to the development of cancer but the infection may be cleared during development of the malignancy. This is known as the “Hit and Run” hypothesis. What is needed is a means of identifying and comparing what past and current infections have occurred in one group of individuals that are not present or greatly reduced in another.

All animals have an immune system that produces unique antibodies in response to infections such that a single human being can produce ?10 billion different antibodies which provide a cumulative historical record of past exposure to infectious agents. Each antibody is designed to target a specific type of infection and we have successfully developed a new method which can compare antibodies present in women with ovarian cancer to women who are disease-free and then use this information to decode what infections have occurred in one group compared to the other. This was not an easy task requiring the development of unique laboratory and computational skills in order to identify past and current infections which may have contributed to development of this disease. It is very significant that when the output of our method was used to search the entire known protein repository of >1.4 million species, including all known animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and viruses, by far the highest scored organisms were infectious agents and most specifically viral infections already implicated in the development of other types of cancer (See Figure 1). We are currently analyzing these results to verify these findings in blood samples taken from individual women with ovarian cancer.

It is very clear that an improved understanding of the cause of ovarian cancer may provide new diagnostic tests which may help predict risk of this disease. Furthermore, if specific infections can be established as having a causative role this may also provide the means to develop novel strategies aimed at prevention.

Finally, we believe this new method will also be useful for diagnosing the cause of many other so-called idiopathic diseases which are suspected to originate from unknown infections such as multiple sclerosis etc.


Drs Ian and Lynne Hampson (left) from Manchester University’s Institute of Cancer Sciences, made the news this week, when they discussed the results of recent clinical trials they have conducted, concerning how a HIV drug can be used to reverse the effects of a virus that causes cervical cancer.

For a number of years, The Humane Research Trust has funded medical research projects conducted by Drs Ian and Lynne Hampson, including much of the pre-clinical work which led to those trials reported upon in the Telegraph newspaper, and on the BBC news programme North West News, during the week of 17th February 2014.

For further information please click on the below link, to read an article taken for the Manchester university website.

Exciting results after clinical trial held



Author: glewis