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Grant supports collaborative approach to ovarian cancer treatment research

by Amy Hamaker
Michael Press, professor of pathology at the Keck School, and his collaborators from several other institutions are examining the genetics of ovarian cancer.
Michael Press, professor of pathology at the Keck School, and his collaborators from several other institutions are examining the genetics of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer frequently goes undiagnosed until it has spread, making it difficult to treat and often fatal. Research into genetic mechanisms of ovarian cancer at USC recently received a boost thanks to a more than $300,000 grant from the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation.

Michael Press, holder of the Harold E. Lee Chair in Cancer Research at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, received $317,000 for the project “Potential Assays for Patient Selection to Ovarian Cancer Clinical Trials.” With the help of the grant, Press and his collaborators will continue their work into analyzing genomic alterations and determining how those alterations can be used to map specific treatments for individual patients.

The long-term goal of the project is to analyze molecular changes in gene expression to discover which ones are likely to be critical to the survival of ovarian cancer cells, as well as to identify drugs that target those specific expression changes. Once this is done, Press said, the researchers will be able to use early-phase clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of those drugs in women whose cancers show these genetic expressions.

“We’ve developed a clinical database in our lab related to the patients from whom we’ve collected ovarian cancer samples,” Press said. “We’re planning to develop assays that are clinically relevant to identify patients who are potentially capable of benefitting from a particular type of therapy.

“It’s a very ambitious undertaking, and we think that the right people are assembled for this project,” he continued. “This grant is what allows the group to work together; we’ve previously been working with very minimal funding.”

Rather than funding single experiments, the foundation asks grant recipients to interact with peers at other institutions, a process that can often yield faster results for patients. Project researchers working with Press include Dennis Slamon and Gottfried Konecny of Jonsson Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles; Joan Brugge of Harvard Medical School; Ronny Drapkin, George Demetri and John Quackenbush of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Victor Velculescu and Stephen Baylin of Johns Hopkins University; and Gordon Mills of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The Adelson Medical Research Foundation, established in 2006, is a private foundation that supports collaborative approaches to biomedical innovation to prevent, reduce or eliminate disabling and life-threatening illness. Currently, the foundation is principally focusing its funding efforts on oncology, neurology and the biology of addictive diseases.

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