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Yale Researchers Tackle Ovarian Cancer and Heart Attacks in WHRY-Funded Studies

September 26, 2016

Heart Attacks

Dr. Erica S. Spatz, Assistant Professor of Medicine, will test a method of classifying women who have heart attacks into more specific categories to allow for more targeted treatment based on the diverse ways in which the disease develops and is seen by medical professionals.

Every year in the United States, 40,000 women are hospitalized for acute myocardial infarction (AMI), the technical name for a heart attack, when blood flow to the heart is blocked so as to damage the muscle and potentially cause death.

Young women have a greater risk for complications and death than younger men and older women with heart attacks, but about one in five young women do not show evidence of a plaque rupture or a blood clot in an artery — the typical mechanism for causing a heart attack.

Although women have diverse presentations (i.e., symptoms) and mechanisms of disease development, they are grouped together under broad classification systems, possibly obscuring important differences and limiting research that could help reveal these variations, better inform patients about the aspects of their specific diseases, and develop more targeted treatments, Spatz said.

To help remedy this problem, Spatz and her colleagues created a system for grouping young women into five unique categories based on the various ways in which they might develop problems that lead to a heart attack. This approach could transform how medical professionals classify AMI in young women, the researchers said. But there are still questions to answer about the system’s validity for other groups of women and men.

In the new study, the team will use various patient databases to apply their classification system and assess treatment outcomes for women of different ages, races, and ethnicities and between women and men.

“For example, our prior studies have shown that women of African descent more commonly present with non-classic heart attack characteristics and have worse health outcomes than women of European descent,” Spatz said. “By expanding our investigation into more diverse groups, we can advance a more personalized, precision-based approach to diagnosing and treating women who display different kinds of evidence of heart attacks.”

Ovarian Cancer

Dr. Anthony N. van den Pol, a Professor of Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, aims to test a virus that is able to completely eliminate brain tumors in animals to see if it can have similar success with treating chemotherapy-resistant ovarian cancer.

“Based on our very promising preliminary data, we expect that the virus will not only selectively infect and destroy ovarian cancer cells but lead to a dramatic increase in the lifespan of test animals beyond conventional chemotherapy,” van den Pol said.

About one in every 60 women in the United States will develop ovarian cancer. It is the eighth most common form of cancer for American women and the fifth leading cause of cancer death.

In many women, ovarian cancer cells mutate and become resistant to chemotherapy, often leading to death. In collaboration with Dr. Gil Mor, Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, and Dr. Alfred Bothwell, Professor of Immunobiology, van den Pol plans to test whether a virus containing genes from Lassa and vesicular stomatitis viruses can infect and kill ovarian cancer cells. The group hopes this new, safe virus can provide a significant development in the standard treatment of ovarian cancer.

“Even if the virus works only a quarter as well in humans as our preliminary data suggest it does against human ovarian cancer cells in mice, this could be a giant step forward in the treatment of this life-threatening malady,” van den Pol said.

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Submitted by Carissa R Violante on September 26, 2016