Amid the COVID19 pandemic and restrictions, it is good to remember that many cancers remain difficult to cure and cause both individual suffering and financial burden to the society. A prime example of such cancers is high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSC), which is the most prevalent epithelial ovarian cancer type and kills more than 44,000 women in Europe every year. Most HGSC patients’ tumors respond remarkably well initially to the standard treatment (surgery with platinum and paclitaxel chemotherapy). However, the cancer typically relapses, and the tumor responds less and less to the next rounds of treatment. This is called chemotherapy resistance. Currently, there are no established, effective treatment options available for chemotherapy resistant HGSC and there is a need to discover effective treatment modalities for such patients.
I am very happy and proud to coordinate the Horizon 2020 funded consortium DECIDER (Clinical Decision via Integrating Multiple Data Levels to Overcome Chemotherapy Resistance in High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer, grant agreement no. 965193) that aims at 1) discovering the mechanisms behind chemotherapy resistance in HGSC, and 2) suggesting effective treatments to HGSC patients with chemotherapy resistant disease. The DECIDER consortium has 14 partners across Europe (list of participants is here) and span expertise on clinical management, genetics, mathematical modeling, cell biology and bioinformatics. DECIDER includes HGSC patients treated at the Turku University Central Hospital, who have given consent for research. Tissue and blood samples from these patients are collected during routine surgery. The samples are then analyzed regarding DNA, RNA and epigenetic level changes, as well histopathologically. Furthermore, organoid cell cultures are established that can be used to test drug effects. The focus of DECIDER is on developing and applying machine learning and artificial intelligence methods to translate these data into knowledge useful in clinical decisions.
The first year has gone fast. It has taken quite a bit of time to fulfill all administrative and ethics requirements. These topics are of course very important; the data we generate are sensitive and need to be managed properly. The bureaucracy, however, was tremendously complicated due to COVID19 restrictions. When administrators are working remotely in seven different EU countries, all being subject to different regulations and institutional policies, it takes time to get things done and agreements signed. I am very grateful that our project has an excellent Project Manager Dr Ann-Christin Ostwaldt, who, together with our previous coordinator Tiia Pelkonen, has coordinated us through administrative requirements and organized seminars and educational sessions.
There are quite a few logistics obstacles to solve in a big consortium, such as DECIDER. For example, just coming up with solutions to send raw data for 600 whole-genome sequencing samples to the DECIDER partners for analysis in a secure fashion is a non-trivial endeavor. Luckily, we have overcome many of these hurdles because we were able to establish logistics and strategies in our earlier Horizon2020 project HERCULES. Thus, for some time now we already have been able to focus on science and results, which is not at all self-evident in a project that just started. As an example, the analysis of sequencing data has already pinpointed cell pathways that might be driving chemotherapy resistance, and validation experiments are designed as I write this blog. And this was just the first year during which we have not been able to see each other face-to-face! I am excited to work with the awesome DECIDER team and looking forward to new findings that we hope will ultimately help HGSC patients.
Sampsa Hautaniemi, Project Coordinator