Oregon State University develops mRNA therapy to treat ovarian cancer and cachexia

Research teams from the Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have made a major breakthrough: developing the first-ever mRNA therapy intended to treat ovarian cancer and related cachexia, also known as “wasting syndrome.”

Using the same foundation as SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, the scientists say the mRNA (messenger RNA) technology can be applied therapeutically and “holds tremendous clinical potential for the management” of the diseases.

Though relatively new to the market, mRNA therapy already shows great potential to encode almost any protein while being extremely safe.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in women, with a survival rate of five years. This means the mRNA discovery offers hope – and a potential solution beyond the traditional surgical removal of the cancer and chemotherapy.

“In 2019, there were an estimated 233,565 women living with ovarian cancer in the United States,” the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reported.

Though most patients will respond to chemotherapy, according to OHSU College of Pharmacy’s Dr. Oleh Taratula, “the responses generally aren’t long-lasting.”

“Chemotherapy remains the frontline treatment for metastatic disease but it comes at a high cost – loss of muscle mass, depletion of fat stores, fatigue, and systemic inflammation,” OHSU’s Dr. Daniel Marks said. “There is a clear need to find new therapies and drug combinations that improve the efficacy and tolerability of chemotherapy, and we think we’ve taken a big step in that direction.”

The key to achieving higher survival rates is to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages, but Dr. Taratula says that most patients aren’t aware they have cancer until it’s spread to the abdominal cavity.

The new treatment is “based on lipid nanoparticles, or LNPs, capable of delivering mRNA that triggers the production of the follistatin protein within cancer clusters” and was developed by collaborators at the two universities, in addition to Dr. Taratula and Dr. Marks.

“By changing the characteristics of the cancer cells, mRNA treatment can lead to a range of positive effects,” Dr. Taratula said. “It prevents the buildup of ascites – abdominal fluid containing cancer cells. It also delays disease progression and induces the formation of small, solid tumors that don’t adhere to organs and thus can be more easily removed. And it combats cachexia by helping to preserve muscle mass.”

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