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Denver lab developing first-of-its-kind tool for early ovarian cancer detection

Denver lab developing first-of-its-kind tool for early ovarian cancer detection
Denver lab developing first-of-its-kind tool for early ovarian cancer detection 02:55

When it comes to cancer survival, early detection is key. Unfortunately, that's next to impossible for ovarian cancer.

Right now, there is no screening or tool to detect ovarian cancer early, leading to 80% of women diagnosed at a late stage. By the time Ingrid Kolstoe of Denver learned she had the disease, it had already reached stage 4.

CBS News Colorado's Kelly Werthmann interviews Ingrid Kolstoe. CBS

"Ovarian cancer has traditionally been called a silent killer because it really whispers," said Kolstoe. "In the beginning, the symptoms are very subtle. Many women are just told they have IBS… so to be able to catch cancer in its earliest stages provides the best hope for anyone."

Now, a new lab in Denver is turning that hope into reality. AOA Diagnostics – a women-founded startup – is working to develop a first-of-its-kind tool that could transform women's health care. Instead of an invasive surgery, a simple blood test could detect ovarian cancer before it's too late.

"We're starting in ovarian cancer because there's a huge, unmet need there," said CEO & Co-Founder of AOA Oriana Papin-Zoghbi, "and because our early research indicates we could have scientific success there as well. But the goal is to take this technology and really apply it to a number of different cancers that affect women."

Papin-Zoghbi explained much research around cancer detection and diagnostics happens in an academic institution or university and often cannot be applied in a clinical lab.

AOA Diagnostics Lab CBS

"There's a lot of steps to get there, and that's the work we're doing," she told CBS News Colorado. "When we started AOA, it was really on that passion of making a difference of transforming women's health, of doing something to actually not just complain about how bad it is but make a difference in how good it could be."

It's a concept AOA started amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The team was working remotely until they received millions of dollars in funding and were cleared for a lab. Papin-Zoghbi said it quickly became clear Colorado was the place to advance their research.

"One by one, we kept hiring in Denver or Boulder," she said. "We weren't even posting to be here, but we found great talent here."

And that, she added, has Colorado at the forefront of the groundbreaking technology.

CEO & Co-Founder of AOA Oriana Papin-Zoghbi   CBS

"We are in the heart of innovation right now," Papin-Zoghbi said. "All that innovation is here. "We're working with (UCHealth) and a number of other academic institutions already in Colorado, so I think Colorado is at the beginning of a really great revolution in life sciences."

A revolution that gives Kolstoe hope today so women around the world can have a healthier tomorrow.

"I feel sad that my life span is going to be cut short," she said, "but at the same time, if I were a person who had to sit here and do this now so my daughters don't go through it in the future, then there would be meaning behind it. I'm just happy to be here to see what's coming in the future…and it's going to come from brilliant women."

AOA is conducting a clinical study for the early detection tool. Those interested in seeing if they qualify, or to learn more, visit:

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