The search for a cure for ovarian cancer has been given a boost by a $5 million gift that will support the clinical research of David S. Alberts, MD, an expert in the field of ovarian cancer research and treatment at the University of Arizona (UA) College of Medicine.
“Curing ovarian cancer has been my guiding light for more than 45 years,” Alberts said in a press release.
The gift was given by the chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies, Leonard A. Lauder, son of founder Estée Lauder. Leonard lost his wife — businesswoman and philanthropist Evelyn H. Lauder — to ovarian cancer in 2011.
When Lauder’s friend and associate, Rose Marie Bravo, was diagnosed in 2016 with a treatment-resistant form of ovarian cancer, he urged her to contact Alberts.
In collaboration with Konstantin Zakashanky, MD, from the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, Alberts helped design an individualized treatment schedule for Bravo. Today, she is in complete remission.
“David is remarkable,” Bravo said. “He never gives up on his patients and always was available to discuss any issue. His collaboration with my primary oncologist, Dr. Zakashanky, was the key.”
It was Alberts’ expertise that first caught Lauder’s attention.
Over the years, Alberts has pioneered new therapies for advanced ovarian cancers, including in vitro tumor cell chemosensitivity testing for personalized medicine. That method tests tumor cells to determine their susceptibility to specific drugs before administration.
He also pioneered the use of chemotherapy delivered into the abdomen (intraperitoneal or IP), along with the standard intravenous (into-the-vein) chemotherapy. These methods were so successful that the National Cancer Institute in 2006 issued a rare statement encouraging the use of these techniques.
With the aim of preventing the disease from recurring, Alberts recently designed a dietary and physical activity intervention. This treatment is being studied in the randomized LIvES Phase 3 trial (NCT00719303). He also introduced the use of maintenance chemotherapy.
“This gift is already making a seminal impact on my laboratory-based research,” Alberts said. “For example, we have initiated a new project to develop an inexpensive home kit to measure concentration of vitamin D3 in the blood. We are also attempting to identify and prioritize those nutrients and physical activities that may prolong complete remissions in patients entered into the NRG LIVES trial.”
“This gift is an incredible tribute to Dr. Alberts,” said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the UA Foundation. “I am proud of the role Dr. Alberts and the university played in Ms. Bravo’s treatment, and am grateful to Mr. Lauder for his desire to expand that impact by deepening the research around treatment of women who have drug-resistant clear cell ovarian carcinomas.”
Alberts and his research team have been at the forefront of preventing cancer at the molecular level through targeted drug intervention for the last 40 years, said Michael D. Dake, MD, senior vice president for UA Health Sciences said.
“This generous gift from Mr. Lauder is vital to furthering those efforts, which we fully expect will create new pathways for precision treatments and, eventually, a cure for ovarian cancer,” Dake said.
UA President Robert C. Robbins said he was grateful to Lauder for the funding, which he said showed “his faith in Dr. Alberts.”
“This unrestricted gift will allow Dr. Alberts to explore promising new research certain to benefit patients for decades to come,” Robbins said.