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A rapid blood test for early detection of ovarian cancer

Associate Professor Carlos Salomon Gallo followed his research career from his home in Chile to the University of Queensland where he now conducts research in pursuit of an early detection test for ovarian cancer.

An early detection test is essential to raising the 5-year survival rate of ovarian cancer patients from 46% to over 90%. Therefore, Carlos’s aim is to create a blood test that will diagnose the most common form of ovarian cancer (High Grade Serous) at its earliest and most curable stage.

Carlos’ project began with funding from the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) which allowed him to explore the role exosomes play in the body and their potential as important biomarkers, or indicators, of ovarian cancer.

Exosomes are tiny bubbles that are released from tumour cells and travel around the body communicating with other cells. Carlos discovered that these exosomes could be the key to revealing if a patient has ovarian cancer even if they are asymptomatic, which is essential as ovarian cancer is generally no longer at an early stage by the time concerning symptoms present.

There are several types of biomarkers within these exosomes that Carlos has identified could signal the beginnings of ovarian cancer. And so, he has developed the OCRF–7, an algorithm that could achieve more accurate results than CA125 which is the current world-standard biomarker. This is because the OCRF-7 algorithm simultaneously tests not one biomarker, but a set of them that are encapsulated within the exosome itself. The test then delivers a probability that early-stage ovarian cancer is present.  CA125 is generally 60% accurate, whereas tests conducted on 700 samples thus far has revealed that the Carlos’s OCRF-7 algorithm has over 90% accuracy.

The central algorithm to Carlos’ test is called the OCRF-7 in recognition of the OCRF’s seed funding and continued support for his project from its inception, through to proof-of-concept stages. With a rigorous grant assessment process, informed by international scientific experts and those who have been directly impacted by ovarian cancer, the OCRF uncovers the highest quality research and acts as an essential launch pad for ground-breaking projects like Carlos’, that without OCRF support, simply wouldn’t happen.

I don't have words to describe how fundamental the OCRF's support has been for my research."

A/Prof Carlos Salomon Gallo


Carlos’ research is now expanding, thanks to a $2.7 million funding boost from the Medical Research Future Fund. This grant will allow Carlos to further challenge the accuracy of his test with a much larger trial - an essential next step in the research process.

Carlos will trial OCRF-7 on 4000 samples from the largest screening study to date, the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening (UKCTOCS). The UKCTOCS trial, for the first time, has provided an extensive sample set of over 200,000 women which allows Carlos to test samples that were collected at intervals of one, three and five years before diagnosis, alongside samples that do not have ovarian cancer. Because early-stage ovarian cancer is generally asymptomatic, samples presenting it early are hard to come by, so this is a unique opportunity. Not only can Carlos begin to determine if his test can detect at ovarian cancer an early stage…but also determine how early.

I grew up with my mother, grand-mother and great-grand mother, and one of the things I learnt from my family is that whatever you do – do it with commitment, do it with passion, and be a good person.”

It is with this level of dedication that Carlos approaches his research, inspires his team, and will persevere with his research, so that future generations will have access to an early detection test as part of their healthcare routine. Because women and girls deserve more than half a chance of surviving ovarian cancer.


watch the video


Footage courtesy of UQ Medicine


Learn more about ovarian cancer diagnosis

There is currently no early detection test sensitive and reliable enough to detect ovarian cancer in early stages. The CA125 blood test that is often used to help confirm diagnosis lacks specificity and can return results indicative of other conditions. 

Learn more about CA125


08 September 2021
Category: Research news
Tags: early detection, explainer,
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