(November, 2014, Hong Kong) — A potential new treatment for ovarian cancer – the most lethal cancer of the female reproductive system – has recently been uncovered, thanks to research supported in part by the Asian Fund for Cancer Research (AFCR). AFCR-funded scientist Wei Zhang, Ph.D., Professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center in the U.S. and Adjunct Professor at the Tianjin Medical University, has reported a discovery linking ovarian cancer to the loss of a specific molecule in the cells, called miR-506. Their research suggests that restoring miR-506 may provide a new and effective way to treat patients with ovarian cancer.  

Worldwide, nearly 240,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year, and over 150,000 women die of the disease. Ovarian cancer is called the “silent killer,” since it is often diagnosed at a late stage when there is a lack of effective treatment options. Less than half of ovarian cancer patients survive five years after diagnosis.   

“Ovarian cancer is a terrible disease, and new treatments are desperately needed,” said Prof. Zhang. “But that will only happen once we have a better understanding of how this disease works at a molecular level. We need to know the key players, and what their roles are in ovarian cancer.”

One of the key molecules, as Prof. Zhang’s research discovered, is a microRNA called miR-506. MicroRNAs are a class of molecules which play a vital role in the regulation of gene expression and cell function.  

Prof. Zhang’s team found that deregulation of miR-506 makes ovarian cancer more aggressive.  Moreover, increasing the cellular level of miR-506 puts ovarian cancer cells into a state of “senescence” so that they no longer grow or divide.  This critical finding provides a rationale for treating ovarian cancer by restoring miR-506 function—an entirely new way to treat this deadly disease.

The research leading to this discovery was a joint venture of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, USA, the Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital, and Tianjin Medical University General Hospital in Tianjin, China.  The ovarian tumor samples used in this research were provided by the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia, an international standard biorepository and collaboration platform for biospecimen-based research, sponsored in part by AFCR.  

“At AFCR, we always take a holistic view of cancer research,” said Dr. Sujuan Ba, President of AFCR. “We are not only committed to funding outstanding researchers like Prof. Zhang, but also to building research platforms such as the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia that enable effective and efficient conduction of international collaborative programs.  The end result of this multi-channel approach is accelerated discovery of new cancer treatments and a brighter future of research for a cure. ”

Prof. Zhang’s research is featured on the cover of the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Pathology.

About the Asian Fund for Cancer Research

The Asian Fund for Cancer Research, Ltd. (AFCR) is a non-profit organization committed to curing cancers that have significant impacts on Asian populations.  Headquartered in Hong Kong, AFCR is uniquely positioned to implement in Asia the newest cancer research discoveries and technologies from around the world, investigate the distinct causes of cancer in Asian populations through innovative genetic and molecular research, and develop more effective therapies tailored to Asian cancer patients.  AFCR is dedicated to bridging the scientific and educational gaps in cancer research and cancer prevention between Asian countries and the rest of the world through promoting, coordinating and funding international collaboration in cancer research and public education. We are fully devoted to reducing the incidence and increasing the survival rate of cancers in Asia. For more information, visit www.AFCR.org.hk or call (852) 2156 9684.

This press release is also published on CancerConsultants and China Medical Tribune.