Developing Gene Therapy Techniques for Ovarian Cancer

Setsuko K. Chambers, M.D.

Setsuko K. Chambers, M.D.,   Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Ovarian cancer, which has the highest mortality rate among gynecological cancers, usually presents after it has metastasized (spread) tumors throughout the abdominal cavity. As ovarian cancer is unlikely to be detected in its earliest stages, scientists must continue to strive to develop effective treatments for this disease. In order to stem the progression of this disease, it is necessary to identify the molecular processes by which cancer cells spread to other organs.

Highlighted Study Findings

This investigation found preliminary evidence for the effectiveness of a gene therapy-type approach to reducing the invasiveness and metastasis of ovarian cancer in an animal model. Gene therapy in cancer treatment involves introducing genetic material into tumor cells to help destroy the cells or prevent their spread. These findings showed how molecular processes behaved within the ovarian cancer cell, thus advancing the development of gene therapy as a more effective treatment for ovarian cancer.

Pilot Project Study was funded in 1999, Dr. Chambers is now at the University of Arizona Cancer Center

Understanding Gender-Specific Regulation of Genes

Stewart Frankel, Ph.D.,   Associate Research Scientist in Pediatrics and Developmental Biology

Biological traits that differ between females and males can be traced back to genes, which contain the instructions for building and maintaining the body. By using the experimental organism the fruit fly as a model for human biology, Dr. Stewart Frankel studied the activation pattern of every gene, investigating how sex differences in these genetic activation patterns are generated and predispose females or males to disease.

Highlighted Study Findings

Dr. Frankel identified mechanisms that generate sex-specific gene expression, which appears to be a major contributing factor in the preferential susceptibility of each sex to particular diseases. He laid the groundwork for further, wider studies of differential gene expression in males and females. Identifying and understanding such mechanisms has direct relevance to diseases in which the causes include some form of gene dysregulation, such as cancers and autoimmune ailments.

Pilot Project Study was funded in 2002, Dr. Frankel is now at the University of Hartford, CT

Identifying Markers of Invasive Breast Cancer

Harriet Kluger, M.D.

Harriet Kluger, M.D.,   Associate Professor of Internal Medicine (Oncology)

Most early breast cancers that have not spread to the lymph nodes are treated with surgery (with or without radiation therapy), hormonal therapy (if the cancer is hormone sensitive), and chemotherapy. Without chemotherapy, 70 to 80 percent of these patients would still be cured; chemotherapy increases survival rates by only 2 to 10 percent. However, chemotherapy is offered to most patients because accurate predictors for which women are likely to have their breast cancer recur without chemotherapy are lacking. Dr. Harriet Kluger sought to identify genetic markers that signal those forms of early breast cancer which do and do not require chemotherapy.

Highlighted Study Findings

In this study, breast cancer cells were analyzed for expression levels of thousands of genes in cells that have low capacity for invading through breast structures, and in cells that were capable of invading the breast and spreading to other parts of the body. After evaluating multiple candidate genes considered for these studies, this project successfully identified that three genes in particular that were correlated with poor survival. By identifying these and other genetic markers, those forms of early breast cancer which do and do not require chemotherapy after surgery could be identified, thus saving many patients the toxicity and burden associated with the treatment. Health care providers have begun to use these screening techniques to inform treatment decisions.