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A paper led by Dr Zhiyuan Hu from Professor Ahmed Ahmed’s lab has won the Columbia Hospital for Women Research Foundation’s 2020-2021 prize for impact.

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women, with around 7,500 new cases diagnosed in the UK each year. Currently, only 35% of patients in England will live ten years beyond their diagnosis. 

Fewer than 1 in 3 patients in England are diagnosed at Stage 1 where 5-year survival rates are as good as 93%. The development of screening tools has transformed survival rates for other cancers such as cervical and breast cancer.

In 2020, Dr Zhiyuan Hu together with colleagues from Prof. Ahmed Ahmed’s group at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine used single-cell RNA sequencing to look at the RNA in individual normal cells from the inner layer (epithelium) of Fallopian tubes, which carry eggs from the ovaries to the uterus, and which is the origin of the vast majority of ovarian cancers. By doing so, they were able to identify new subtypes of normal Fallopian tube cells. Surprisingly, the molecular fingerprints of these subtypes were mirrored in individual ovarian cancers.

The scientists discovered that single-cell sequencing of the normal Fallopian tube can identify a particular group of ovarian cancer patients who have the poorest chance of surviving the disease and who do not benefit from current treatments. Focussing on new treatments for this particular group of patients will be an important way to improve overall survival rates.

This research, which was published in the journal Cancer Cell, brings the Ahmed group closer to finding the cell of origin of ovarian cancer, and their ultimate aim of developing a much-needed screening tool for ovarian cancer. Their publication has now received an award from the Columbia Hospital for Women Research Foundation for one of the two most impactful papers of 2020-2021.

The mission of the Columbia Hospital for Women Research Foundation is to recognise the research deemed to have the most impact in the field of breast or obstetrical and gynaecological disorders published in a given calendar year. Members of a selection committee, composed of experts in the field, nominate publications and then vote. The winners can choose a non-profit foundation to which the award will be donated in their honour.

Congratulations to the authors for this recognition of their important work.