World Ovarian Cancer Day - Q&A with Dr Meshach Asare-Werehene

We spoke with Dr Meshach Asare-Werehene, Editorial Board member for Journal of Ovarian Research, on his work in tackling ovarian cancer to raise awareness of World Ovarian Cancer Day which takes place on May 8th each year.
World Ovarian Cancer Day - Q&A with Dr Meshach Asare-Werehene

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Dr Asare-Werehene is a clinical biochemistry fellow at the University of Toronto and an editorial board member for Journal of Ovarian Research. He is an expert in gynaecological cancer diagnosis and therapeutics and cancer program lead at the Tsang Laboratory, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI). He is an Amazon bestselling author of the book, “The ABCs of Cancer”.

Why did you decide to go into your field of research?

Growing up in Ghana, I never took no for an answer. When I was seven, I heard a conversation going on between my parents and one of our uncles, and I heard my uncle say that our auntie died of cancer because there was no treatment for her. I was like, “Why is there no treatment? Is it a money issue? Or did we have to transfer the drug from one clinic to the other?” My parents nearly punished me for interrupting a senior discussion; in Ghana you don’t interrupt high-level family conversation as a child. But my uncle calmed them down and said, “All the treatments weren’t working for your auntie, so there was nothing that could help her.”

I never knew that could happen. What my uncle said ignited my passion. Since then, I made a promise to myself that I was going to pursue this; I was going to help patients like that get better, and I was going to understand why some patients don’t respond to chemo. I later found out how lethal ovarian cancer is and decided to channel my passion along that path. That response to the harmless question I asked inspired and propelled me to pursue a career in the field of ovarian cancer research.

How has research into ovarian cancer developed over the course of your career?

There has been tremendous progress in ovarian cancer research over the course of my career. Although the 5-year survival rate has not dramatically improved, we are seeing considerable efforts emerging in areas of diagnosis, therapeutics, and patient management. On the diagnostic front, we are seeing the emergence of novel biomarkers such as plasma gelsolin, miRNAs, extracellular vesicles, amongst others. In the area of therapeutics, there has been promising findings on immunotherapy, PARP inhibitors, targeted therapies, antibody-drug conjugates, anti-angiogenics, and oncolytic therapies. Over past decade, we have also seen the explosion of modern technologies such as microfluidic based models, organoid technologies, ex vivo ovarian cultures and many others that are helping to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms of ovarian cancer. These efforts and new dimensions have the potential of improving early detection, targeted and personalized treatment as well as the overall survival rate.

What research are you currently working on and what impact do you expect and hope it will have on the field?

Tumours that resist chemotherapy are a major challenge for treating ovarian cancer. For the past 30 years, the survival rate for ovarian cancer has not gotten that much better, compared to other cancers. It’s still around 45%, which means when a patient is diagnosed today, the probability of living to see the next five years is 45%, which is super low.  And this is mainly due to late diagnosis as well as the fact that most patients do not respond to the conventional treatments. I am currently investigating whether nano-sized particles in the blood called extracellular vesicles can be used to detect early-stage ovarian cancer and predict resistance to chemotherapy. Also, I am investigating the immuno-suppressive role of plasma gelsolin in chemoresistant ovarian cancer. We have demonstrated that chemo-resistant ovarian cancer cells produce large amounts of plasma gelsolin, which prevents cancer-killing immune cells from doing their job. If we can block this protein, chemotherapy may work better for ovarian cancer and immune cells can function at their optimum best. It’s like taking the immune cells to the gym to make them stronger. This research could lead to the development of individualized treatment strategies with fewer side-effects.

What are your hopes for progress in the future?

I have high hopes for the field of ovarian cancer research. I believe strongly, the efforts being made today will transform tomorrow’s diagnosis and treatment to improve the overall survival of ovarian cancer patients. Using inter-disciplinary approaches to tackle ovarian cancer will be an effective means of fighting ovarian cancer holistically. This will be made possible by investing in the next generation of scientists as well as providing sufficient funds for research and development.

For more research on ovarian cancer, check out our article highlights campaign in Journal of Ovarian Research.

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Cancer Biology
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Cancer Biology
Life Sciences > Health Sciences > Clinical Medicine > Diseases > Cancers
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