Measuring how active a certain gene is could predict which women with ovarian cancer will benefit from certain chemotherapy drugs, research has suggested.
Scientists found that a gene called FGF1 is highly active in aggressive, advanced ovarian cancers. It is found at higher levels in cancer cells that are resistant to platinum chemotherapy treatments, a common treatment for the disease. As a result, women with high levels of FGF1 are less likely to respond to these drugs and have a poorer prognosis.
Researchers, based at the University of Dundee's school of medicine, hope their findings lead to new treatments for the disease.
Dr Gillian Smith, who was involved in the study, said: "We're excited by these results because they identify potential ways that ovarian cancer builds resistance to common chemotherapy drugs over time.
"Our study paves the way for the development of new tests to determine if chemotherapy will work and suggests that drugs targeting FGF1 could be effective new treatments for a group of women with a type of ovarian cancer that is difficult to treat successfully."
FGF1 activity increases after ovarian cancer cells become drug resistant, the researchers also found. By blocking FGF1 in ovarian cancer cells resistant to platinum drugs, the scientists were able to make them sensitive to chemotherapy again.
The scientists measured amounts of a variety of genes in 187 ovarian cancer patients and found that each cancer has a unique range of active genes. But FGF1 appears to play the greatest role in determining how cancers behave. It encourages the cancer to grow a blood supply, helping to fuel its growth.
The study, funded by Cancer Research UK and the Scottish Funding Council, is published online in the British Journal of Cancer.
Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Ovarian cancer is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage where surgery is difficult and the disease has spread. The current approaches to treatment are limited. Not all women respond to chemotherapy and there is no way of telling who will benefit most.
"This research is a step towards addressing the urgent need to develop tests that can tell us more about each woman's ovarian cancer and help personalise treatment to save more lives."