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A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


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Health Sciences, Sciences
Host campus
Master's, Honours
Pathology (Dunedin)
Dr Sunali Mehta, Dr Mak Sarwar


As the most fatal gynecologic malignancy, epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) is the 5th leading cause of cancer-associated death in women in New Zealand and 8th internationally. The 5-year survival rate among patients with advanced-stage high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSC) is less than 40 per cent, as current therapies become increasingly ineffective for treating metastatic ovarian cancer. Several mechanisms are associated with the acquired chemo-resistance. By targeting these cooperating mechanisms, we may be able to develop novel therapies for ovarian cancers that would otherwise be unlikely to respond to the standard treatment.

We hypothesize that targeted inhibition Src/Fak axis and PI3K pathway could inhibit ovarian cancer progression and hamstring tumour cells' ability to adopt alternate mechanisms to proliferate and survive. The preliminary work provided some evidence indicating the therapeutic value of the combination treatment approach in HGSC. In the proposed study, novel combinations of drugs and drug conjugates will be tested in a range of pre-clinical models using a broad range of cutting-edge cellular and molecular biology technologies in a panel of ovarian cancer cell lines. If the initial testing is successful, alternative peptides and drugs will be explored to identify the most clinically useful molecular cargo. This proposed research will not only further cancer therapeutics research but would also likely prompt larger clinical studies and commercial interest.

Specific aims:

  1. Evaluation of combined targeting of FAK/PI3K and Src/PI3K in organoids.
  2. Determine other genes and pathways associated with therapeutic response.
  3. Test the clinical value of novel ligand-directed therapeutic molecules in ovarian cancer.

The student will have an opportunity to work with two leading groups in gynaecological cancer and endogenous radical insults. This proposed research will not only further understanding of ovarian cancer development but would also likely prompt larger clinical studies.


Dr Mak Sarwar

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