Although there have been slight improvements in outcomes after conventional therapy, survival rates remain poor for women with advanced ovarian cancer. Seven researchers from Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center have been awarded pilot grants from the Ovarian Cancer SPORE to make progress in research for ovarian cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women.
The Ovarian Cancer SPORE, which was awarded to Roswell Park and UChicago in September 2021 to support collaborative research across the two centers, aims to reduce the morbidity and mortality of ovarian cancer through innovative translational research. SPOREs, which stands for “Specialized Programs of Research Excellence,” are prestigious and highly competitive grants from the National Cancer Institute designed to enable the rapid and efficient movement of basic scientific findings into clinical settings. They are also designed to determine the biological basis for observations made in individuals with cancer or in populations at risk for cancer.
The goal of the Ovarian SPORE is to translate basic and applied research into clinical trials as quickly as possible by including basic, animal model and clinical researchers in the research team.
“The Ovarian SPORE provides an extraordinary opportunity to build quickly on scientific developments and innovations, which can accelerate progress in developing new therapeutics to reduce recurrence and mortality,” said Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, co-principal investigator of the Ovarian Cancer SPORE and Director of the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The SPORE grant also allows the teams to support recruitment and allotment of several pilot grant awards to new and established investigators who are passionate about studying ovarian cancer. These pilot grants promote foundational research for the next generation of SPORE grants and other large research initiatives.
Pilot grant programs funded by the Ovarian Cancer SPORE are the Developmental Research Program and Career Enhancement Program. These programs expand the pool of researchers committed to translational ovarian research and foster career growth for early-stage and established investigators.
“The funds will enable research that will have the highest possible impact for women with ovarian cancer,” said co-principal investigator Kirsten Moysich, PhD, MS, Distinguished Member and Professor of Oncology in the Departments of Cancer Prevention and Control and Immunology at Roswell Park. “Because immunotherapies have met with only modest success in ovarian cancer patients, we continue to uniquely focus on novel strategies for generating effective anti-tumor immunity by unraveling immune resistance mechanisms and identifying novel biomarkers of responsiveness.”
The Developmental Research Program supports innovative, potentially high-risk/high-reward ideas that could transition basic and/or population research findings into research focused on patients or human specimens.
Awardees of Development Research Program pilot funds and their winning project proposals include:
- Sebastiano Battaglia, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Immunology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
- “NSD2 inhibition increases the response to PARP inhibitors and immune checkpoint blockade in ovarian cancer”
- Richard Koya, MD, PhD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center
- “Immunotherapy for ovarian cancer with BamHI-A rightward frame-1 (Barf1)-mediated regulation of myeloid cells”
- Stephen J. Kron, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology, University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center
- “Targeting telomerase reverse transcriptase to improve treatment of advanced ovarian cancer”
The Career Enhancement Program supports the career development of junior researchers in translational ovarian cancer research. The target population for the program is outstanding entry-level scientific and clinical faculty, but in some cases may include senior postdoctoral or clinical fellows with exceptional potential for independent research careers. A secondary goal is to promote the diversity of ovarian cancer researchers, by encouraging the recruitment of outstanding women, underrepresented minorities and individuals with disabilities.
Awardees of Career Enhancement Program pilot funds and their winning project proposals include:
- Mark Long, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
- “Application of translational multi-omics approaches to derive the features of exceptional response to a novel combination immunotherapy regimen in chemotherapy refractory ovarian cancer”
- AJ Robert McGray, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Immunotherapy, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
- “BiTE-secreting T cells for adoptive T cell therapy in Ovarian Cancer: Improving antitumor immunity by harnessing the potential of bystander TILs”
- Abir Mukherjee, PhD, Instructor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center
- “Effect of adipocytes on CD8+ T cell function”
- Spencer Rosario, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
- “Defining metabolic changes associated with African American and European American females with High Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer”
To learn more about the Ovarian Cancer SPORE, please visit UChicagoMedicine.org/OvarianSpore or RoswellPark.org/Ovarian-Spore.