Attack the Sleeping Enemy
Ovarian cancer, often called the “silent killer” is the most lethal of cancers that can arise in a woman’s reproductive system.
By the time a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer it has often already spread throughout her abdomen. This disease is difficult to treat as it keeps coming back, eventually becoming resistant to further therapy. Dr. Trevor Shepherd and his team in the Translational Ovarian Cancer Research Program at Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario used a laboratory model to discover a multitude of molecular changes that allow the cells to become dormant. And in this dormant state, the cancer cells have a natural ability to survive during spread as well as evade the toxic effects of chemotherapy. This also explains how ovarian cancer may return several months to years later, because the dormant cancer cells essentially wake up and start to grow again.
Recently they discovered that a critical molecule, called LKB1, is used by normal cells to respond to stressful conditions, but is hijacked and activated in dormant ovarian cancer tumourspheres to control cell survival and resistance to chemotherapy.
The Shepherd laboratory is pursuing research collaborations to understand how the LKB1 stress molecule can effectively and specifically block ovarian cancer cells using genetically-engineered tumourspheres. If they can stop the disease from coming back over and over again and find new cancer drugs that can kill dormant ovarian cancer cells while they sleep it may just be a game-changer.