Scientists at A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) and the Bioinformatics Institute (BII) in Singapore have found new clues to early detection and personalized treatment of ovarian cancer, currently one of the most difficult cancers to diagnose early due to the lack of symptoms that are unique to the illness. There are three predominant cancers that affect women – breast, ovarian, and womb cancer. Of the three, ovarian cancer is of the greatest concern as it is usually diagnosed only at an advanced stage due to the absence of clear early warning symptoms. Successful treatment is difficult at this late stage, resulting in high mortality rates. Ovarian cancer has increased in prevalence in Singapore as well as other developed countries recently. It is now the fifth most common cancer in Singapore amongst women, with about 280 cases diagnosed annually and 90 deaths per year. IMB scientists have successfully identified a biomarker of ovarian stem cells, which may allow for earlier detection of ovarian cancer and thus allow treatment at an early stage of the illness. The team has identified a molecule, known as Lgr5, on a subset of cells in the ovarian surface epithelium. Lgr5 has been previously used to identify stem cells in other tissues, including the intestine and stomach, but this is the first time that scientists have successfully located this important biomarker in the ovary. In doing so, they have unearthed a new population of epithelial stem cells in the ovary which produce Lgr5 and control the development of the ovary. Using Lgr5 as a biomarker of ovarian stem cells, ovarian cancer can potentially be detected earlier, allowing for more effective treatment at an early stage of the illness. These findings were published online in Nature Cell Biology on July 6, 2014.
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