Researcher: Dr Praveena Idaikkadar

Supervisor: Dr Agnieszka Michael

Ovarian cancer is the rarest of the gynaecological cancers and yet it is also the most lethal, it is the 5th leading cause of cancer-related death among women. In the UK, over 7000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Most of these women will have a good response to their initial treatment (surgery and chemotherapy) but sadly, in about 70% cases the cancer will come back and is likely to be incurable at that point.

My research focuses on women with advanced ovarian cancer to try to understand why some women respond to further treatment and some women don’t. Our team have found that there is a group of genes called HOX genes which are expressed differently in ovarian cancer patients and could represent a new target for treatment. We have developed a drug which works to suppress these HOX genes and we have shown that it can kill ovarian cancer cells in the lab. Currently, I am trying to combine this drug with other established treatments including the chemotherapy cisplatin, to see if we can improve the killing power of these treatments and reduce the doses we give to patients to improve the side effects they experience.

We are also looking at the correlation between the expression of HOX genes and how long patients survive. Hopefully, we can find a link between which HOX genes are expressed highly in the patients that live the longest or shortest. This will mean we can more accurately predict which patients will do well or not at the beginning of their treatment so we know who to treat the most aggressively, and which patients don’t need so much treatment.

A new project I am working on is the expression of HOX genes in a subset of ovarian cancer patients who have a less common type of the disease called Endometrioid Ovarian cancer. I will be analysing the expression of HOX and other genes in samples from patient biopsies/surgeries.