Dr Emily Colvin - Funded 2018


Improving ovarian cancer treatment using nanoparticles

GOAL: To determine whether our iron oxide nanoparticles increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy in ovarian cancer. 

Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynaecological malignancy and the sixth most common cause of cancer death in Australian women.

If diagnosed early, the chances of surviving for more than 5 years are greater than 90%. However, the lack of specific symptoms at early stages of the disease and no early detection screening tests mean that the majority of women are diagnosed at an advanced stage, when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. For these women, the chances of surviving for 5 years are only approximately 30%. 

Improved treatment strategies and earlier diagnosis are essential to improve the survival rate for women with ovarian cancer.

A major problem with most chemotherapies is that they do not directly target the tumour and therefore normal tissues in the body are also exposed to these toxic drugs. This leads to many of the undesirable side effects associated with chemotherapy such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting. 

The development of technologies that can maximise the amount of chemotherapy being delivered directly to the tumour, while at the same time sparing normal tissues would be beneficial to ovarian cancer patients by increasing the effectiveness while greatly reducing side effects. 

This research is focusing on the use of theranostic nanomedicine to improve treatment and diagnostic strategies for women with ovarian cancer.

“Theranostics” is a new term to describe the combining of therapy with  diagnostics.

Nanotechnology/nanomedicine uses devices or particles on a nanometre scale; a nanometre is one billionth of a metre. Nanoparticles represent one possible way that we can enhance drug delivery to tumours, while at the same time reducing side effects by limiting drug exposure to normal tissues. Nanoparticles can also be used to improve imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that are used for cancer diagnosis. 

The Bill Walsh Laboratory is interested in using novel iron oxide nanoparticles to enhance the delivery of chemotherapy to sites of tumour growth, while limiting toxicity to surrounding normal tissues. Working with chemists from the University of Sydney, they have recently published early preclinical data showing that their nanoparticles selectively target ovarian tumours (shown in the figure overleaf) as well as the omentum, an abdominal organ that is also the most common site of ovarian cancer spread.

In addition, the nanoparticles are non-toxic and rapidly cleared from normal tissues in the body. This desirable distribution profile means that our nanoparticles have exciting possibilities in improving drug delivery to ovarian tumours and as an imaging tool to aid in earlier diagnosis of ovarian cancer. 

We look forward to sharing the progress of Dr Emily Colvin's research with you throughout the year. 

Read more about Dr Emily Colvin here.

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