The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) has received a $30,000 grant to further its research into new strategies to treat ovarian cancer.
The grant, awarded by the Colleen’s Dream Foundation, will help support TGen’s recent discovery that mutations in the SMARCA4 gene are behind the cause of an aggressive form of ovarian cancer known as small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type (SCCOHT). SCCOHT is a very rare and highly malignant tumor with a poor prognosis and usually found in young females.
The grant will allow TGen researchers to test the effectiveness of a drug called triptolide, which is derives from an ancient Chinese medicinal plant called “thunder god vine,” in targeting SCCOHT and other subtypes of ovarian cancer. Researchers also will assess whether triptolide can be used to enhance the effectiveness of standard ovarian cancer treatments.
“We are excited about TGen’s research and hope this grant proves useful in TGen’s quest to discover new and more effective ways to treat ovarian cancer,” Nicole Cundiff, CEO and co-founder of Colleen’s Dream Foundation, said in a press release. “Together, we can help change the ovarian cancer landscape for women across the world.”
The research focuses on the hypothesis that ovarian cancers, and other types of cancer, begin in the human genome and are caused by what is known as super-enhancers, which are regions in the DNA bound to large complexes of regulatory proteins that regulate the expression of multiple distant genes.
“Super-enhancers are master regulators of genetic networks that are critical for cancer growth,” said Will Hendricks, an assistant professor in TGen’s Integrated Cancer Genomics Division. “We believe that triptolide could disrupt the super-enhancer networks that promote SCOOHT and possibly other subtypes of ovarian cancer.”
Established in 2012, Colleen’s Dream Foundation funds ovarian cancer research with the primary goal of developing an accurate and accessible early detection test. The foundation was created by Nicole and Billy Cundiff in honor of Nicole’s mother, Colleen, who passed away in 2013 after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. So far, it has granted about $600,000 to support more than a dozen of projects in ovarian cancer. Billy Cundiff is a veteran placekicker in the National Football League.
More than 22,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and 45% of patients die within five years of diagnosis.
“There is a tremendous need for new ovarian cancer treatments,” said Jessica Lang, a TGen postdoctoral fellow in Hendricks’ lab. “We hope that our work with this novel anti-cancer drug may be making inroads toward improving outcomes for these patients,” she said.