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OVARcoming Cancer

Developing a more effective screening test for ovarian cancer

ASMA AMLEH
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY
DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGY

Developing a more effective screening test for ovarian cancer

The Inspiration

Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological cancer. The symptoms are ambiguous, the disease has a high worldwide rate of mortality and morbidity, and the majority of women aren’t diagnosed until the disease has reached its last stages. Yet the screening tests are limited, especially at the early stages. So we need to find new approaches to early diagnosis. With breast cancer, there’s a lot of research and data available, and survival rates are higher. There is a lot to be done with ovarian cancer.

8th most common CANCER among women WORLDWIDE

The Process

This is a two-year research program, supported by AUC’s Bartlett Fund for Critical Challenges. My initial research in this area began at AUC in September 2013 as part of a collaborative project with a researcher from Canada. After winning the Bartlett grant, I became the principal investigator, along with co-investigator Terri Ginsberg, assistant professor of film in AUC’s Department of the Arts, for an interdisciplinary team that includes graduate and undergraduate students at AUC, a gynecologist from Mansoura University, a biostatistician in AUC’s Department of Biology and a filmmaking instructor in AUC’s Film Program. We’re collecting and analyzing specimens from both healthy and diseased patients, and extracting RNA and sending them to be sequenced. At the end of the day, diseases affect gene expression. So we need to understand the specific expressions that indicate ovarian cancer.

5th most common CANCER among EGYPTIAN women

The IMPACT

Our goal is to develop a screening method to detect ovarian cancer in its earliest stages. Our method would be cost-effective, noninvasive — based on a blood sample — and derived from microRNA sequencing, the most specific and sensitive data marker available. This work is urgently needed. The impact would be immediate and powerful.

The Next Steps

Part of our project is to empower women with the knowledge that regular checks for ovarian cancer are crucial. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women in Egypt are hesitant to discuss ovarian cancer. We want to normalize that conversation, so we’re making a video to spread knowledge about ovarian cancer. Research is about discovery, but it’s also about raising awareness.

The Future

This is a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional project, where researchers from around the world bring their own expertise to the table. At AUC, we have a smart, hard-working research team, supported by all the resources and facilities we need: dedicated labs for cell culture, genomics and bioinformatics; technological support; an Academic Data Center and a tremendous library. By working together, we produce something beautiful and necessary.

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