I am happy to share with you Dr Samimi's responses to my interview questions.
1. You are currently associated with the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia. What is your medical background and how did your interest in ovarian cancer research begin?
I’m not a medical doctor—I received my PhD from the University of California, San Diego in 2004. My thesis involved studying why ovarian cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy. I then did my post-doctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, NIH in Bethesda, MD. My post-doc research involved studying ovarian tumors to find new therapeutic targets.
2. In the recent online article “Ovarian Cancer Test is Closer: Researchers” it mentioned identifying specific biological changes in DNA of women with ovarian cancer. Does your research use blood samples, tumor samples or cell lines?
Our research uses blood samples to identify DNA changes, because the hope is to develop a non-invasive test (such as a blood test) that can be used to determine which women may have early stage cancer. Once we have identified some of these changes, we will check to see if they are also present in the corresponding tumor.
3. Please describe in layman’s terms the methods you are using to conduct your research.
We collect blood from patients or healthy volunteers. We then separate the plasma and use a commercial kit to isolate the DNA that is present in the blood. We then use another commercial kit to enrich the DNA for regions that are methylated—this is a biochemical alteration in the DNA that happens during the development of cancer. We then subject the DNA to sequencing to compare which regions are methylated in cancer versus healthy subjects. Once we get a list, we need to confirm these regions in a larger sample before it could be applied to the public. We are looking at 5-10 years down the line.
4. What DNA changes are you looking for? Insertions, deletions, mutations?
DNA methylation is considered an epigenetic alteration, which means a change in the structure of DNA, rather than the actual sequence.
5. How does your line of research differ from others developing early detection tests?
We are the first who are applying whole-genome sequencing to methylated DNA from blood. Most are focusing on proteins (like CA-125) or specific DNA sequences.
6. Do you see this test being used in the general population, with women at risk for ovarian cancer or those exhibiting symptoms of the disease?
Because of the relative rarity of ovarian cancer, it’s difficult to apply these kinds of tests to the general population as you would need essentially 100% accuracy for it to be helpful. So we intend to apply this test to women at risk, so women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
7. When will your test be ready for clinical trial? What issues do you see in developing this method for widespread use?
Because the analysis of whole genomes takes some time, and the results have to be validated in larger samples before being applied in a trial, we are aiming for 5-10 years down the road.
8. Will the cost of this test be in line with other detection tests, such as the CA-125?
Good question, I actually don’t know the answer to this. I guess it would depend on who markets it and how many women it can be applied to.
9. What do you see in the future for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer?
We know that women who are diagnosed early have a very high survival rate (80% 5-year survival). They usually undergo surgery and may not even need chemotherapy treatment. So if we can improve early detection, we can improve the survival rate and quality of life of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
10. Is there anything else you would want women to know about your test for ovarian cancer?
We still have some time before our test or others will be developed or applied, so in the meantime listen to your body and make sure to have regular check-ups.
Thank you Dr Samimi for taking time to answer these questions and all your efforts to find a early detection test for ovarian cancer.
Every Day is a Blessing!