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Test boosts ovarian cancer treatment hopes

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Ovarian cancer patients will be able to take a test to determine whether they will benefit from a new type of drug.

The new test, called the RAD51 assay, has been described as a significant step forward in personalised medicine. It scans cancer cells and reveals which ones contain faulty DNA that can be targeted by PARP inhibitors.

Patients found to have a particular defective gene can then be given the drugs, which are designed to treat inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer.

A study found that one PARP inhibitor selectively blocked the spread of tumour cells identified by low levels of the protein RAD51.

It showed that PARP inhibitors could help 60% of all women with ovarian cancer.

Dr Asima Mukhopadhyay, from the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Newcastle, presented the findings at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Conference in Liverpool.

He said: “Our results show that this new test is almost 100% effective in identifying which ovarian cancer patients could benefit from these promising new drugs.”

Scientists are now working on refining the test so that it is suitable for routine hospital use.

The test has been used to examine tumour samples in the laboratory but is not yet suitable for routine clinical practice; however, the team hope to refine it for use in patients.

Dr Mukhopadhyay added: “Now we hope to hone the test to be used directly with patients and then carry out clinical trials. If the trials are successful we hope it will help doctors treat patients in a personalised and targeted way, based on their individual tumour.”

The test may also be applicable to other kinds of cancer that respond to PARP inhibitors.

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