Queensland research team targets ovarian cancer vaccine

Thursday 21 March 2024

Mater Research is set to spearhead the development of a ground-breaking vaccine to treat ovarian cancer thanks to a $670,000 OCRF (Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation) grant announced today.

Ovarian cancer claims the lives of around 1,000 Australian women each year and is the deadliest gynaecological cancer, with a five-year survival rate of 49%.

Professor Kristen Radford, of Mater Research and The University of Queensland, said the vaccine her team hoped to develop would be used to treat active cases of ovarian cancer and not as a preventative tool.  

The vaccine will target ‘dendritic’ cells, which play a key role in the body’s immune system.

“Ovarian cancer is very challenging to treat because it comprises over thirty distinct disease types, many of which don’t respond to conventional chemotherapy and standard care protocols,” Prof Radford said.

“Some of the current treatments that are available for women with ovarian cancer have not fundamentally changed in decades.

“We are targeting a certain subtype of immune cells called ‘dendritic cells’, which are the primary cells which trigger immune response.

“In ovarian cancer patients the dendritic cells are somewhat dysfunctional, which might help explain why, to date, ovarian cancer hasn’t responded to immunotherapy as well as other cancers.”

The $670,000 grant will enable Professor Radford’s team to investigate which molecules on dendritic cells can be targeted to train the immune system to more effectively fight ovarian cancer.

Prof Radford’s previous research has already demonstrated the effectiveness of a dendritic cell-based vaccine for treating prostate cancer.

The OCRF is the largest independent funder of ovarian cancer research in Australia, second only to the Commonwealth, and announced $2.4m in new research grants today.

Mater is the leading treatment and research centre for ovarian cancer in Queensland, treating around 130 of the 285 women who are diagnosed with the disease in the state each year.

There is no available screening test for ovarian cancer, which means most cases are advanced when they are detected.