Women's Cancer

Research areas in Women's Cancer

Gynaecological Cancer Research Group

About Us

The overall aim of the Gynaecological Cancer Research Group is to understand why gynaecological cancers develop, how and why they spread throughout the body, and how best to treat them. “Gynaecological cancer” encompasses all cancers of the female reproductive system, though our current research focuses on ovarian and endometrial cancer.

We have a number of current projects including the development of an early detection test for ovarian cancer, and the identification of key targets for anti-metastatic therapies in ovarian and endometrial cancer.

We have a particular interest in the Wnt signalling pathway, an important signalling pathway involved in metastasis. We are particularly interested in investigating the regulation of a number of key proteins involved in this pathway, and understanding their role in the context of ovarian and endometrial cancer spread.

The group is led by Dr Caroline Ford, a cancer researcher within the School of Women's and Children's Health and based at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre. After completing her PhD at UNSW on the topic of oncogenic viruses, Dr Ford undertook two international postdoctoral appointments in cancer research. Her first postdoctoral research appointment was at the University of Toronto, Canada and the second appointment was at Lund University, Sweden. She returned to UNSW in late 2009 funded by an NHMRC CJ Martin Fellowship and established her research group.

Dr Ford is also an experienced university lecturer, convening courses on medical research, cancer pathology and personalised medicine, including Australia's first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Personalised Medicine. She has completed a Graduate Certificate in University Learning & Teaching, and is passionate about science communication and enhancing the health literacy of the wider community. In 2017 she was named as an inaugural ‘Superstar of STEM’ by Science & Technology Australia.

Research Projects

Current and future projects include:

  • 3D model of ovarian cancer metastasis
  • A search for a “Wnt signature” in gynaecological cancers
  • Expression and function of Wnt receptors in endometrial cancer
  • The effect of Wnt inhibitors on ROR1 and ROR2 signalling using a novel ascites tumour model

 

CAMILLA & MARC Ovarian Cancer Campaign

image - Gynaecological Cancer Research Group

The Gynaecological Cancer Research Group aims to understand why gynaecological cancers develop, how and why they spread throughout the body, and how best to treat them. “Gynaecological cancer” encompasses all cancers of the female reproductive system, however the group’s research focuses on ovarian and endometrial cancer.

The group is currently investigating the development of an early detection test for ovarian cancer, and the identification of key targets for anti-metastatic therapies in ovarian and endometrial cancer. They also have an interest in understanding chemoresistance and cancer progression.

To raise some much needed funds CAMILLA AND MARC have launched their #ovariestalkaboutthem campaign in partnership with UNSW and A/Prof Caroline Ford.

This is a very personal milestone for brother & sister duo, Marc Freeman & Camilla Freeman-Topper who lost their mother to #ovariancancer when they were children.

Through their grief, they have become a powerful voice for the voiceless, using their fashion brand to generate awareness of this hideous disease and to raise much needed funds for research.

Funds raised from this campaign, will directly support the Gynaecological Cancer Research Group at UNSW, and specifically the validation of an early detection test for ovarian cancer.

In Australia, 1 woman dies every 8 hours from ovarian cancer - that's 3 women per day!

This is largely due to the lack of an early detection test, stigma attached to discussing women's reproductive organs, and a dearth of funding for research.

You can support the campaign by:
1) Purchasing a Limited Edition t-shirt: https://www.camillaandmarc.com/ebou…/ovarian-cancer-tee.html
2) Donating directly to the research: https://gcrf.everydayhero.com/au/ovaries-talk-about-them-1  or   https://alumni.unsw.edu.au/Giving/MED/GCRF
3) Sharing the campaign with your networks.

 

Moran Family fundraising for Ovarian Research Fund

image - Gynaecological Cancer Research Group

All proceeds are going directly to Ovarian Cancer Research at the UNSW Lowy Cancer Research Centre.

Read the story and donate HERE

 

Staff/Team members 
Other team members 

Postdocs
Dongli Liu
Miya John

PhD students
Nicole Yuwono
Bonnita Werner

Honours students
Judy Xu

Opportunities for Staff/Students 

The Gynaecological Cancer Research Group provides opportunities for Honours students and PhD students.
We also take a select number of Medical School students each year for ILP projects.
As a first point-of-contact please email, Dr Caroline Ford.

Molecular Oncology

The Molecular Oncology group is led by Professor Susan Ramus. The aim of the group is to improve ovarian cancer risk prediction and prognosis, by using large international consortia that are adequately powered to have an impact for patients.

Improving risk prediction for ovarian cancer
The aim is to identify women at increased risk of ovarian cancer before they develop the disease, by studying inherited changes in their DNA. We are identifying two types of changes.

1) Common variants
Finding large numbers of changes, each with a very small increased risk.
These changes are identified by performing Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) in large numbers of cases and controls from two international consortia. The Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium (OCAC) and Consortium of Investigators of Modifiers of BRCA1/2 (CIMBA).

2) Rare variants
Finding changes that are rare in the population but have a moderate increased risk.
These changes are identified by performing whole exome sequencing (WES) and large-scale validation by targeted sequencing in large numbers of cases and controls.
High grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC): We have screened 80 genes in up to 6,000 ovarian cancer cases and 6,000 unaffected controls.
Non HGSOC: We have screened 32 genes in 2,000 ovarian cancer cases and 2,000 unaffected controls.

Improving prognosis for Ovarian Cancer
The aim is to identify markers that can group women with similar changes in their tumours and determine their prognosis. Being able to predict how well a woman may respond to current treatments may identify a group of women who need alternative treatments. These studies are performed through the Ovarian Tumour Tissue Analysis (OTTA) Consortium.

1) Validation of prognostic markers by immunohistochemistry (IHC)
Analysis of individual biomarkers using large scale centralised staining and scoring of tissue microarrays (TMA).

2) Identifying new prognostic markers for HGSOC
Large scale genomic analysis of formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) tumours using the latest technologies such as NanoString RNA expression, screening for somatic mutations using TamSeq and DNA copy number using shallow whole genome sequencing (sWGS).

Read more about Prof Ramus and her research: World leading ovarian cancer researcher joins UNSW Medicine

Staff/Team members 
Other team members 

Research Team

Staff

Dr Amir Ariff
Bioinformatics – Next generation sequencing data
Nicki Meagher
Project / Database manager – OTTA consortium
Adelyn Bolithon
Research Assistant – NanoString RNA expression

image - Molecular Oncology

PhD Students

Marina Pavenello “The contribution of rare alleles to non-high grade serous ovarian cancer”
Nicki Meagher “Unravelling mucinous tumours of the ovary and intestinal tract: diagnosis, classification and molecular profiling”

Consumers

Gill Stannard - Cancer Voices NSW and Translational Cancer Research Network
Jacinta Frawley Werger - Cancer Voices NSW 
Daria Carynny - Cancer Voices NSW
Jenni Yoon - Cancer Voices NSW

image - Molecular Oncology

Chris Christensen, Chair of Cancer Voices SA and a consumer in our team for two years, sadly passed away in Oct 2020. She will be greatly missed. She will continue to inspire us to work on projects to improve outcomes for women with ovarian cancer.

image - Molecular Oncology

Research Supporters/Funding 
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Current
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Cancer Australia 2018-2021. The contribution of rare alleles to non high grade serous ovarian cancer
Cancer Council NSW 2018-2020. Moving towards personalised treatments for ovarian cancer
Department of Defence USA 2016-2020. Multidisciplinary Ovarian Cancer Outcomes Group (MOCOG)
S&C Roth Family Foundation 2019-2020. Investigating immune response in BRCA1/2 ovarian tumours
NSW Health PhD Scholarship (Nicola S Meagher) 2017-2023. Unravelling mucinous tumours of the ovary and intestinal tract: diagnosis, classification and molecular profiling
Beth Yarrow Memorial Award in Medical Science Scholarship (Marina Pavanello) 2019-2020. Genetic susceptibility in non high-grade serous ovarian cancer
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Recently Completed
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National Institute of Health (NIH) USA 2014-2019 Identifying prognostic markers and therapeutic targets for serous ovarian cancer
National Institute of Health (NIH) 2014-2019 The contribution of rare alleles to ovarian cancer in the population
Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research. Pilot grant. 2018-2019 Genetic susceptibility to non high grade serous ovarian cancer
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