FGF1 was also found to be active at higher levels in tumours that are resistant to a common form of chemotherapy. Further research is required, but the researchers say that measuring FGF1 expression levels might help doctors decide the most appropriate treatments for patients.
Lead author Dr Gillian Smith, from the University of Dundee, said that the team had identified 'potential ways that ovarian cancer builds resistance to common chemotherapy drugs over time. Our study paves the way for the development of new tests to determine if chemotherapy will work'.
In the study, researchers looked at the activity of ovarian tumours from 187 patients and found that each tumour had a unique gene activity profile. Of all the genes the researchers investigated, FGF1 appeared to have the greatest influence on the way the cancer developed. FGF1 helps tumours grow a blood supply, fuelling their growth.
The researchers also found that FGF1 activity increased after tumour cells had developed resistance to platinum-based chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin and carboplatin. By blocking FGF1 in ovarian cancer cells resistant to platinum drugs, the scientists were able to make them sensitive to chemotherapy again.
Accordingly, Dr Smith said, 'drugs targeting FGF1 could be effective new treatments for a group of women with a type of ovarian cancer that is difficult to treat successfully'.
'Approaches to treatment [for ovarian cancer] are limited,' added Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, which part-funded the research. 'Not all women respond to chemotherapy and there is no way of telling who will benefit most'.
The study is published in the British Journal of Cancer.