Dr Dane Chealsey

Australian low-grade serous ovarian cancer researcher awarded federal grant

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre researcher Dr Dane Cheasley (pictured) has been awarded a $1.1 million dollar four-year grant from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund to use high throughput screening to fast-track the discovery of therapy combinations for the treatment of low-grade serous ovarian cancer (LGSOC).

The grant is part of a $20 million dollar allocation to ovarian cancer by the Federal Government, which was announced in 2019 after advocacy by the late LGSOC woman Kristen Larsen, and Ovarian Cancer Australia.

Kristen Larsen

Kristen Larsen (19/06/1992-09/12/2019), Ovarian Cancer Advocate

“Kristen was absolutely thrilled when the federal funding was announced following her address to our nations leaders in Canberra. The fact that one of these grants has been awarded specifically to a low-grade project is something that she would have been immensely proud of” says Kristen’s sister Elsa Larsen.

LGSOC represents about 5% of all epithelial ovarian cancers diagnosed with advanced stage LGSOC carrying a poor prognosis. Further, LGSOC are largely unresponsive to standard ovarian cancer chemotherapy, meaning alternative treatment strategies for LGSOC are desperately required.

Dr Cheasley says, “While a single drug is unlikely to be sufficient to completely eradicate some LGSOC’s, combinations of drugs targeting multiple mutations and cancer pathways could offer a higher chance of long-term efficacy and even cure,” explains Dr Cheasley. Dane’s research will investigate this using anti-cancer therapies already approved for use in people and known to specifically target genetic abnormalities driving the growth of LGSOC.

Dane’s research team will then use state-of-the-art robotics facilities at the Victorian Centre for Functional Genomics at the Peter Mac to conduct high-throughput screening of thousands of drug combinations in 20 patient derived LGSOC cell lines capturing the genetic diversity of the disease. The initial cell lines are being sourced from Dr Carey’s Canadian LGSOC research team at BC Cancer – Cure Our Ovarian Cancer’s Canadian Charity Partner.

Dr Cheasley says, “By employing high-throughput screening technologies we can speed up the drug discovery process to quickly translate these findings into better treatments options for women with this disease”. Once effective therapy combinations have been discovered on cell lines, researchers will test whether they also work to kill cancer cells taken directly from newly diagnosed women with LGSOC, and identify genetic abnormalities that predict whether their cancer will respond to particular drug treatments discovered.

This large-scale project is the first of its kind for women with LGSOC and has the power to create immediate clinical drug development opportunities. “Application of drug combination therapy is the best approach to significantly improve patient outcomes with this terrible disease,” says Dr Cheasley.

Published: 19 July 2020