The first Certara Biomedical Research Scholarship has been awarded to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) to support a research project focusing on ovarian cancer cellular aggregates (spheroids) that often lead to metastasis and cancer relapse following surgery.
The research is being led by postgraduate research student David Morse.
“We are delighted to support Mr. Morse’s ovarian cancer research and the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program in which he also participates,” Dr. Edmundo Muniz, PhD, Certara’s CEO, said in a press release. “At Certara, we are committed to scientific education and to leveraging modeling and simulation to develop novel therapies for cancer. This scholarship, along with our recent appointment of Adam Darwich, PhD, as the first Certara Lecturer in Precision Dosing at The University of Manchester in England, affirm our beliefs in education and innovation.”
Modeling and simulation are well-validated methods used to identify biomarkers that predict anti-tumor activity, both to determine the best dosing approaches and the potential for drug interactions when therapies are combined.
In his research, Morse is using single-cell RNA sequencing. His aim is to explore cellular differences of ovarian cancer spheroids and identify genes that are differentially expressed, functional, and targetable.
“These spheroids remain within patients after surgical resection of primary ovarian cancer tumors, and are thought to lead to relapse and further cancerous growths. Because of their diffuse locality within the abdomen, the most appropriate form of treatment is chemotherapy,” said Morse. “We hope to reveal the unique genomic makeup of these spheroids so that they can be effectively targeted and treated by chemotherapies.”
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 22,280 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and about 14,240 women will die from the disease in 2016. Ovarian cancer currently accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. The risk of a woman developing ovarian cancer during her lifetime is estimated to be 1 in 75.
In his previous research, Morse focused on developing nanomedicines to deliver oncological multimodal treatments. But he found that oncological nanomedicines are limited by their inability to directly deliver therapies to tumor sites. He maintains that single-cell sequencing of cancer tumors will advance active targeting by revealing the genomic identities of the individual tumor cells.
The National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program is an accelerated, individualized doctoral training program for outstanding science students committed to biomedical research careers. Each scholar has a mentor at the NIH and another at either the University of Cambridge or at the University of Oxford. Morse’s Cambridge University mentor is Tuomas Knowles from the department of chemistry.
Morse graduated from the Chancellor’s Scholars and the College Scholars Honors programs at the University of Tennessee in 2015 with a degree in Physics and Biophysics. He received the National Science Foundation’s National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network undergraduate grant in 2014 to do research at Harvard University’s Weitz Lab.
He was awarded both the Fulbright and Whitaker International Program Postgraduate Awards to pursue an MPhil degree at the University of Cambridge, researching a new nanoparticle drug targeting Glioblastoma Multiforme. As an NIH OxCam student, Morse will continue to carry out cancer research, and hopes to follow his PhD with an MD focused on medical oncology.