Researchers Study Fallopian Tube Cells from Cancer-Free Women to Learn More About the Origin of Ovarian Cancer

Grantee: Kate Lawrenson, PhD
Institution: Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles
Area of Focus: Biochemistry and Immunology of Cancer
Grant Term: 01/01/2020-12/31/2023

The Challenge:  The most common type of ovarian cancer is a high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSC). This cancer is aggressive, and it’s often not detected until after it has spread (metastasized) outside of the ovaries. Of all the types of ovarian cancer, HGSC has the lowest 5-year survival rate.

Ovarian cancers were previously believed to begin only in the ovaries, but recent evidence suggests that many ovarian cancers actually start in the cells in the far (distal) end of the fallopian tubes. Very little is known about the types of cells in the fallopian tubes that can cause ovarian cancer.

The Research: ACS grantee Kate Lawrenson, PhD, and her team are learning about the cells in the fallopian tubes that can become cancerous and progress to ovarian cancer.

Lawrenson recently published results from her study of 12 fallopian tube samples from 8 women without cancer. She and her team used a technique known as droplet-based single-cell RNA sequencing to profile the genes in 53,000 individual cells in the lab, looking for the likely cell type that leads to HGSC.  

By mapping the major cell types, Lawrenson identified 10 epithelial subpopulations and narrowed the likely precursor state for most HGSCs as an “early secretory” population. The team determined that this cell has characteristics similar to a type of ovarian cancer that doesn’t have successful treatment options.

Why it Matters:   Understanding the cellular makeup of the human fallopian tube in cancer-free women is expected to advance the understanding of the earliest stages of ovarian cancer. That knowledge can help lead to the development of more effective ways to detect and, maybe even prevent, of ovarian cancer.