Research in ovarian cancer continues to focus as much on prevention as it does an intervention, especially around the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. For example, studies indicate that there is a link between BRCA gene mutations and fallopian tube cancers. The current avenue of research focuses on microRNAs, though.
MicroRNA was first discovered in the early 1990s. Since then research as shown aberrant microRNA expression to be a sign of disease linked to many deadly conditions, specifically chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Since that initial discovery, researchers have found expression of microRNA may be critical in the diagnosis and treatment of other diseases, as well, like ovarian cancer where early diagnosis is necessary for proper treatment and improved survival rates.
MicroRNAs are small, non-coding (not translated into a protein) RNA molecules that are part of gene expression regulation. A microRNA contains 22 nucleotides and is a critical component in RNA-induced silencing complex (RISC). Little else is known about the biological functions of microRNA beyond the regulation of gene expression.
MicroRNA controls many different processes including hematopoiesis, cardiogenesis, blastocyst implantation and neuronal development. Many recent studies regarding microRNA focus on its influence on cancer development.
In cancer, normal cells undergo genetic changes that enable them to proliferate excessively independent of growth signals. The affected cells are nonresponsive to inhibitory growth signals and apoptosis.
Researchers have seen the deregulation of microRNA expression in most tumors examined. However, identifying the expression pattern of the microRNAs is difficult because it differs in specific tissue types and differentiation states. This makes it hard to tell if a change in microRNA patterns is causing cancer or a symptom of it.
Current theories indicate microRNA acts as a tumor suppressor, though. MicroRNA is also believed to be oncogenes — genes that have the potential to become cancer. One area of study that is especially interesting is the role microRNA plays in ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer kills just under 14,000 women each year. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in the female population with epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) being the most common form. EOC also represents a highly aggressive gynecologic malignancy in developed countries, despite the advances made in treating and detecting it. Research has shown that the future of prevention and treatment of this deadly disease might lie with microRNA.
Although the details of the role microRNA play in cancer, in general, is a bit foggy, it’s clear it is involved in the development, differentiation, proliferation and metastasis of ovarian cancer. MicroRNA expressions appear in the early stages of the disease, meaning it may serve as a biomarker for early-stage ovarian cancer, allowing for early treatment and slowing the progression of the illness.
There is a chance that microRNA might offer a way to identify cancerous from normal tissue. The microRNA expression might correlate with specific pathologic features of ovarian cancer, as well, such as histotype, lymphovascular, organ invasion and involvement of the ovarian surface. It may be possible to develop point-of-care tests to detect early-stage ovarian cancer that are highly sensitive with strong specificity.
In-depth research has found the expression of microRNA in different blood serum and plasma, ascites, pleural effusion, urine and saliva in the presence of ovarian cancer. That abundance can make testing for diagnosis, treatment and prognosis simple and less painful than many current methodologies.
MicroRNA functions as a tumor suppressor and that might indicate it has therapeutic value, as well. Researchers are looking at different approaches for using microRNA as a treatment for ovarian cancer.
MicroRNAs provide an advanced perspective on gene regulation. It’s believed that increasing or decreasing microRNA expression might have a significant effect on the disease such as lowering the levels of BRCA1 mutations. New drugs might target microRNA as a way to treat cancer.
The combination of diagnostic capabilities through analysis technology, nano sensitivity and point-of-care testing is a game-changer for early detection of ovarian cancer. Add to that the potential therapeutic benefits and microRNA is one of the most exciting areas of discovery in cancer prevention and treatment.