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AI tool developed to identify aggressive ovarian cancer

Monday January 14th, 2019

A new artificial intelligence tool has been devised to scan the shapes of tumour cells and improve diagnosis of aggressive ovarian cancer, it has been announced.

Created by scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK, the tool could help to tailor treatment to suit the needs of individual women.

The AI tool looks for clusters of cells within tumours with misshapen nuclei, which is an indication that the DNA of cancer cells had become unstable.

Cancers with misshapen cell nuclei had hidden weaknesses in their ability to repair DNA, which could make them susceptible to drugs called PARP inhibitors or platinum chemotherapy.

The researchers also found that immune cells were not able to move into the clusters of cells with misshapen nuclei, suggesting that cancers with these clusters are better at evading the immune system.

Women with these clusters of shapeshifting cells had an extremely aggressive type of ovarian cancer, with survival for five years or more being 15%, compared with 53% for other patients with the disease, the researchers report.

Writing in Nature Communications, the ICR team describe how they applied the AI tool to analyse tissue samples from 514 women with ovarian cancer, and it looked at almost 150 million cells.

They found tumours containing clusters of cells whose nuclei varied in shape had lower levels of activity of key DNA repair genes, including BRCA1.

The team also found that the clusters had higher levels of galectin-3 protein, which is known to cause key immune cells to die.

Dr Yinyin Yuan, team leader in computational pathology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Using this new test gives us a way of detecting tumours with hidden weaknesses in their ability to repair DNA that wouldn’t be identified through genetic testing. It could be used alongside gene testing to identify women who could benefit from alternative treatment options that target DNA repair defects, such as PARP inhibitors.

“Our test also revealed that ovarian tumours with these clusters of misshapen nuclei have evolved a new way of evading the immune system, and it might be possible to target this mechanism with new forms of immunotherapy.”

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, added: “What makes this test even more exciting is its ability to pick out in a new and different way those women whose tumours have weaknesses in DNA repair – who might therefore respond to treatments that target these weaknesses.”

Nature Communications 12 January 2019

Tags: Cancer | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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