Dialog Box

A new team member for OCRF-funded rare ovarian cancer research project

[approx. 3 min read] 

For approximately a decade, the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF) has supported Dr Simon Chu’s research into a rare form of ovarian cancer, Granulosa Cell Tumours (GCT). Now, we are thrilled to introduce OCRF-funded PhD student Teharn Hegarty who, alongside Dr Chu, will be advancing knowledge of GCT over the next three years at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

When GCT is diagnosed at stage 1 patients are generally treated with surgery. Fortunately, there is a high survival rate at this stage of around 80%. However, 30% of patients experience recurrence — and uniquely to GCT, it can occur even up to 30 years after initial treatment. Conventional chemotherapeutics have been proven ineffective as they are designed for more common epithelial ovarian cancers that have a different cellular origin. Additionally, due to the late recurrence, patients often do not have regular check-ups resulting in poorer prognosis. Teharn will be focusing on a mutation which is found in a large percentage of adults with GCT. She explains,

We’re hoping by better understanding the mutation we can develop better treatments for people who are diagnosed with this disease.” Additionally, the project will study the cause of adult GCT recurrence by looking at genetic mutations of this kind of tumour."

Teharn Hegarty

As a child Teharn darted between her fascinations of the macro and micro, with as much interest in the galaxy as examining bugs under her parent’s old microscope. Through school her interests became more focused when she studied the menstrual cycle and the ovary. After her degree at Monash University, Teharn completed her honours year at Associate Professor Karla Hutt’s laboratory, where she worked on a fertility project focused on how anti-CD20, a type of immunotherapy, affects fertility. Now investigating granulosa cell tumours, she says, “The project perfectly combines my interest in the ovary and possibly prepares me for a future in cancer genetics.”

Image provided by Teharn Hegarty

Teharn wants to deliver answers

“I was surprised, when I investigated the literature, at how little we know about critical gene function in the ovary. I’m researching ovarian cancer for women’s health and trying to improve the field of reproductive and sexual health, so that women out there have more information,” explains Teharn.

With Dr Chu’s team, Teharn hopes to contribute to targeted treatments for GCT tumours, particularly because her fertility research has revealed that not only are ovarian cancer treatments scarce, but those that do not negatively impact fertility are even more so. 

Teharn’s inherent curiosity is abundant. “Having OCRF funding for our research is important and appreciated, so that I can be here doing what I love, trying to answer complex questions for women out there.” 

Having encountered the challenges of researching a rare cancer for over a decade, Dr Simon Chu is pleased to have Teharn on the team, recognising the OCRF’s contribution.

He says, “The OCRF have been invaluable supporters for research into all types of ovarian cancer, including the rarer subtypes which often get overlooked by national funding bodies. Through OCRF funding, we were able to perform much of the groundwork studies that led to our being successful in getting an Australian Government Medical Research Future Fund grant that will continue our exploration into these tumours that are incredibly difficult to treat when recurrences occur. It is wonderful to have bright young scientists like Teharn who are passionate about helping girls and women who have GCT. Her project will help enormously in increasing our understanding of the molecular causes of this disease, and to also provide insight into potential therapeutic strategies to combat this disease. Teharn will be a great asset to our team with thanks to the OCRF for funding her scholarship.”


13 April 2022
Category: Research news
Tags: collaborative funding, funding, research news, treatment,