Ovarian cancer has a mortality rate of up to 70%. This is partly due to the fact that the disease is rarely detected in its early stages because the symptoms are vague and nonspecific. Currently, there is no accepted screening method for ovarian cancer. Due to the mortality rate, physicians often counsel women at high risk to have their ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as a precaution. Jennifer Barton, director of University of Arizona’s BIO5 Institute wants to change all this. With $863,000 from the United States Army and nearly $500,000 from the NIH in research funding, her plans for a falloposcope that will detect early-stage ovarian cancer is moving forward.
(Imagae courtesy of wikimedia)
A falloposcope is an endoscope used to image the fallopian tubes, where researchers now believe ovarian cancer originates. Barton, a professor of biomedical engineering, biosystems engineering, electrical and computer engineering and optical sciences, has overseen studies that already demonstrate the new devises feasibility. This new funding will allow her and her team to ready the device for testing in vivo, or in a living person. It is hoped this minimally invasive, inexpensive and highly sensitive falloposcope will not only detect ovarian cancer in its early stages, but also prevent many unnecessary prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomy, or precautionary removal of healthy ovaries and fallopian tubes.
“If you could go in to screen for cancer, and tell with certainty that a person is perfectly fine -- and have them return for another screening down the line -- then women wouldn’t be having these life-altering surgeries unless they’re absolutely necessary,” Barton explained in an article for UAZ’s College of Engineering News. “For women whose screenings show evidence of cancer, we could recommend they go ahead with the surgery, but at least they would know it was necessary, and maybe we could delay it to when they’re 45 instead of 35.”
Prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomies mean the loss of fertility, hormone replacement therapy, and dealing with the psychological toll that comes with both. The risk of cardiovascular disease after menopause, or after the procedure, increases as well.
Barton believes her device will be able to detect precancerous cells in the Fallopian Tubes before they spread to the ovaries. The project’s goal is to create an effective, minimally invasive, and clinically reliable method of detecting the earliest precancerous abnormalities. This information could then be used to guide a physician’s and patient’s treatment plan.
Barton’s collaborators include Dr. Kenneth Hatch, UA professor in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, and Dr. John M. Heusinkveld, associate director of the Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. In this next step, Drs. Hatch and Heusinkveld will be testing the new device in human volunteers who are already scheduled for a hysteroscopy or fallopian tube removal.
“Ideally, this study will leave us with a really robust imaging system for getting high-quality images of normal fallopian tubes and ovaries, and procedures that work smoothly every time in the operating room,” Barton said. “Thus, we’ll have our baseline to start our next study, which would be to do this in high-risk women who are undergoing salpingo-oophorectomy.”
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