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Ovarian tumour research among studies funded by NSW Health scholarships

An analysis of mucinous ovarian cancers is among the successful studies awarded in the inaugural round of the NSW Health PhD Scholarships Program.

Four UNSW PhD candidates won funding for the scholarships announced by NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, matched by the host universities or partner organisations.

UNSW PhD candidate Nicki Meagher, with South East Sydney Local Health District, will analyse large datasets of histological and molecular information to better characterise mucinous ovarian cancers.

Mucinous cancers are rare subtypes of cancer affecting different organs, usually the colon, appendix and ovary. Incidence estimates of mucinous ovarian cancers vary, but they likely comprise around 4% of all ovarian cancers.

Making a diagnosis of mucinous ovarian cancer is especially challenging, particularly when the cancer has spread. There is often uncertainty about whether it started in the ovary or elsewhere in the gastrointestinal tract.

Ms Meagher says this makes treatment recommendations difficult, and women with later stage disease respond poorly to standard ovarian cancer chemotherapy.

Developing a better understanding of the genetic make-up of these cancers will not only help improve diagnosis, but also help uncover treatment targets, and design clinical trials that guide treatment options for these patients.

Ms Meagher will work with the Ovarian Tumour Tissue Analysis (OTTA) consortium, an international collaboration established by her primary supervisor Professor Susan Ramus.

“The OTTA consortium gives me the access to very large datasets generated from their pooled biobanks and collaborative studies,” she says.

“It also gives me the opportunity to work with international experts across disciplines of molecular biology, pathology and epidemiology. Susan has brought extensive international experience to UNSW and I am very lucky to be supervised by her.”

The NSW Health PhD scholarship program was open to PhD candidates who work within, or closely with, NSW local health districts (LHDs), Ambulance Service of NSW and specialty health networks.

The other UNSW scholarship winners were: Kelly Thompson (with George Institute for Global Health), Jeanette Walsh (NSW Ministry of Health) and Shiying Zheng (South East Sydney Local Health District).