Molecule may prevent spread of ovarian cancer

New diagnosis of ovarian cancer are expected to surpass 22,000 in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society. The fifth-most deadly cancer among women, ovarian cancer is No. 1 among cancers of the female reproductive system.

The ACS estimates about 15,000 women will die from ovarian cancer this year. What makes it so deadly is that it is virtually incurable with available treatment options after the cancer has spread to other organs.

However, researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago demonstrated in a mouse model that by lowering production of the fractalkine receptor, tumors did not metastasize to nearby sites of the peritoneal wall, bowel or liver. [1] Fractalkine is known as chemokine ligand 1, a protein in humans encoded by the CX3CL1 gene.

“The greatest barrier to our ability to treat cancer in this stage is that we know very little about the molecules that cause the disease to spread,” said Maria Barbolina, Associate Professor, Biopharmaceutical Sciences at UIC and lead researcher of the study. “The goal of our research is to identify key molecules that govern metastasisThe spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body. In metastasis, cancer cells break away from the original (primary) tumor, travel through the blood or lymph system, and form a new tumor in other organs or tissues of the body. The new, metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are breast cancer cells, not lung cancer cells. and use them as targets for the development of new drugs.”

Nearly a third of all cancer drugs target G protein-coupled receptors, of which fractalkine is one, so “we reasoned that blocking it may prevent or reduce ovarian cancer metastasis, because it's expressed in 64 percent of metastatic ovarian carcinoma specimens,” Barbolina said.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, feeling of fullness, or urinary tract complaints. The cancer mainly develops in older women, after menopause — about half are 63 or older. A woman’s lifetime risk of getting ovarian cancer is about one in 75.

The ovaries are two oval reproductive glands which are part of the female reproductive system. They sit on either side of the uterus and are close to the fallopian tubes. The primary function of the ovaries is to secrete and release eggs. They also create and secrete hormones including estrogen and progesterone.

When ovarian cells change or begin to behave abnormally, cysts and tumors can begin to grow. Most ovarian cysts and tumors are non-cancerous. In some cases, tumors with precancerous cells can turn into ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer will start in one of three different types of cells found in the ovaries:

  • epithelial cells
  • stromal cells
  • germ cells

Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type of ovarian cancer. The epithelial cells form the tissue that covers the ovaries.

The early stages of ovarian cancer, most often, do not cause any symptoms. Some of the following symptoms can be caused by things other than ovarian cancer, so it is important to visit your physician for a proper diagnosis.

Recognizing the symptoms of ovarian cancer can help with early diagnosis. Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • abdominal bloating
  • urinary urgency or frequency
  • edema
  • abdominal mass
  • weight loss
  • painful intercourse

Barbolina and her colleagues hypothesized that biomolecules successfully targeted with drugs in other cancers might also be targets in metastatic ovarian cancer. In earlier research, Barbolina discovered that a fractalkine receptor is expressed in the majority of ovarian cancer cases. It could help the cancer spread to other organs throughout the body when stimulated by another protein that binds to it. [2]


  1. Oncogene | 12 December 2016 | doi:10.1038/onc.2016.456 |
  2. Barbolina, M. (2017). Role of the Fractalkine Signaling in EOC. Grantome. Retrieved 3 March 2017, from