This year it is expected that nearly 1500 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in Australia*. Often called the ‘silent killer’ because symptoms can easily go unnoticed, it is one of the deadliest forms of cancer for women. Working tirelessly to change this however is UNSW Medicine’s latest recruit Professor Susan Ramus, a world-leading ovarian cancer researcher who has returned to Australia after 18 years in the UK and USA to join the University’s team of women’s health researchers at the School of Women’s and Children’s Health and Garvan Institute.
Professor Ramus’ research focuses on two major areas of ovarian cancer: identifying women at risk and profiling changes in tumours in the hope of developing targeted treatments for women already diagnosed. With reference to her work on identifying risk, Professor Ramus’ work concentrates on genetics.
“We want to identify women at risk of ovarian cancer before they develop the disease so they can take preventive measures to not get ovarian cancer. For example Angelina Jolie had preventive surgery to prevent both breast and ovarian cancer. For people with ovarian cancer currently, we may be able to determine genetic factors that led to their cancer and could screen their family members to identify other people also at risk before they get the disease,” she said.
In addition to numerous high impact journal publications, Professor Ramus established and co-leads the Ovarian Tumour Tissue Analysis consortium. This consortium performs profiling of ovarian tumours from more than 50 studies. They are identifying prognostic markers by profiling of up to 10,000 ovarian tumours. She also has a key role in the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium, leading genome wide association studies and also exome sequencing and follow-up targeted sequencing projects of 12,000 samples.
Professor Ramus said her return to Australia was motivated by the fantastic resources - in terms of equipment and skilled people - working at the Women’s and Children’s Health as well as Australia’s position as a leader in the area with projects such as the world-leading Australian Ovarian Cancer Study. Head of School Professor Bill Ledger said he was delighted that Professor Ramus had decided to join them.
“She is a world ranked researcher in genetics of ovarian and breast cancer who will form the nucleus of a group of scientists and clinician's working together to find new ways to diagnose these cancers early enough to give a good chance of cure. Her research studies the well-known BRCA genes but also a cluster of other cancer genes that are involved in ovarian and breast cancer. Her work fits well with our development of the Fertility Research Centre at Royal Hospital for Women, which will research into methods to screen embryos for inherited cancer genes,” he said.
In addition to her research, Professor Ramus will also lead UNSW Medicine’s best and brightest by mentoring medical students, honours students and PhD students in her laboratory
“I believe teaching is very important and students will be given projects that could result in high impact publications and they can lead and develop the projects with their ideas and become independent scientists. It is important for ovarian cancer patients and their families that the next generation of scientists become interested in the field and can continue to work towards improving outcomes for these patients,” she said.
*Cancer Australia https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics