Improving earlier non-invasive diagnosis of high-grade serous ovarian cancer
The majority of women with ovarian cancer (OC) have advanced disease at diagnosis and 5-year survival rates of less than 25%. Women with stage I disease have significantly better 5-year survival rates of over 90%. Recent large studies using CA 125 and transvaginal ultrasound have failed to improve mortality in a screened population. There is therefore a pressing need for new diagnostic biomarkers in OC. The primary aim of my project, as a first step in developing a diagnostic circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) biomarker for high grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC), was to investigate low-cost high-throughput next generation sequencing assays in plasma samples collected from women with newly diagnosed OC. The secondary aim was to apply these methods to other non-invasive samples including cervical liquid based cytology samples that might contribute to earlier diagnosis or screening for women with OC. ctDNA was detected in 30-49% of women with newly diagnosed OC from the UKOPS (n=54) and CTCR-OV04 (n=156) cohorts using targeted sequencing. Using the trimmed median absolute deviation (t-MAD) score, a quantitative measure of genome wide copy number aberration generated from shallow whole genome sequencing (sWGS) data, ctDNA was detected in 39–41% of the women with newly diagnosed disease. To improve sensitivity of ctDNA detection I developed an optimised method for targeted sequencing that has the potential to lower the limit of detection of ctDNA in HGSOC by 100 fold. I have also shown that the size profile of HGSOC ctDNA fragments is different to that of wildtype DNA fragments and shown that selecting for DNA fragments between 90–150 bp can increase rates of ctDNA detection in HGSOC. ctDNA detection increased to 53–67% of women with newly diagnosed OC using the size selected t-MAD score. I have evaluated the utility of cervical sampling for earlier diagnosis of OC by testing and optimising DNA extraction, library preparation and sequencing methods. I have detected tumour DNA in routine cervical cytology samples collected from women subsequently diagnosed with cervical and endometrial cancers. In summary I have developed methods for ctDNA detection in women with newly diagnosed HGSOC that can be applied and refined in larger prospective studies of women undergoing follow-up for treated HGSOC, women with symptoms suggestive of OC and women at high risk of OC.