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A: I am most interested in learning more about ovarian cancer because, of all of the gynecologic cancers, this is the one that is most difficult to treat. My research is devoted to better understanding why ovarian cancer cells often develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs, which are initially very effective at shrinking these tumors. The idea behind our work is that if we can better understand the basic mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance, we may be in a better position to prevent this problem from developing in the future.
It is also possible that what we learn about ovarian cancer will have relevance to any other cancer in which resistance to chemotherapy is a problem—and that means most cancers. Other kinds of cancers that have spread throughout the body like breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer, for example, typically become chemotherapy resistant. Any strategies to reverse chemotherapy resistance in ovarian cancer may apply to these other tumors as well, which would broaden the implications of our work for many other patients - even those without gynecologic cancer.
A: One substantial challenge is understanding how the genetics of a tumor relate to why a given tumor might develop resistance to chemotherapy. We are approaching the problem of drug resistance through a technology called microarray gene expression profiling. The technology takes a snapshot of a patient’s tumor sample to determine which genes in a tumor are turned off and which genes are turned on. This gene expression pattern, or profile, provides critical information about a patient’s prognosis and the aggressiveness of her disease.
A: We were one of the first to use gene expression profiling as it relates to ovarian cancer prognosis, and to provide early evidence to suggest that this technology might play a role in choosing the right therapy for a given patient. This kind of information could eventually allow us to treat patients in a more personalized, tailored way.
While much of what we are doing is basic research, our team has also made some important discoveries that have potential clinical significance. One study demonstrated the value of the chemotherapy drug called bevacizumab in some patients with ovarian cancer. Clinical trials led by our program at BIDMC were instrumental in determining that this drug, which blocks angiogenesis (the ability for a tumor to induce its own blood supply), can induce tumor shrinkage or disease stabilization in carefully selected patients with this disease. These trials studied the use of bevacizumab in patients with relapsed disease, although current clinical trials are in progress to determine whether this anti-angiogenic approach might help patients at the time of their initial diagnosis.
A: We are hopeful that continued research will help us understand why many ovarian cancer patients stop responding to chemotherapy and also enable us to personalize drug therapy based on a tumor’s genetic makeup. We also hope to develop drugs that interfere with the genetic pathways responsible for the development of chemotherapy resistance, thereby preventing this problem from occurring in the first place. What we learn may also enable us to develop better treatments for other, non-gynecologic cancers as well.
More than ten years ago, fate handed Sheldon Simon a cause he was meant to support. In 1998, his wife, Amy, the mother of his two young daughters was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. The news was devastating; little was known about the disease, and the success of treatment so late in the game was slim.
After an initial round of chemotherapy, Amy came to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), where she became a patient of Stephen A. Cannistra, M.D., now the director of gynecological medical oncology at the hospital. “We left no stone unturned. We even tried experimental treatments,” says Simon. “But like many patients who battle ovarian cancer, our efforts in the end were unsuccessful.” After a 15-month fight, Amy died in September of 1999.
“There we were. My oldest daughter was in first grade, and my youngest was 15 months old,” says Simon. “Ovarian cancer is often hereditary; the need for better prevention and early intervention was completely clear to me and so began my commitment to BIDMC and the work of Dr. Cannistra.”
Today, Simon is still fighting for the same cause. His personal call to action was further solidified after the mother of his second wife of three years was also diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. “The news felt like I had been hit in the head with a two-by-four,” says Simon. “I truly feel I have in some way been picked to support the battle against this disease.”
Simon gave $250,000 to help fund Cannistra’s research, which is focused on understanding the genetic underpinnings of gynecological cancers, particularly ovarian. He has pioneered the use of “gene expression profiling” in ovarian cancer to determine which of the thousands of genes in a tumor are turned off or on. This gene expression pattern, or profile, provides critical information about a patient’s prognosis and the aggressiveness of her disease. Cannistra is also conducting clinical trials to develop and test innovative and more effective treatments for patients.
“When I sat down with Dr. Cannistra to learn about his work, what really struck me was the way in which funding for cancer research at this institution is applied efficiently to further additional research or advance medicine or clinical care,” says Simon, who described BIDMC as a hub for innovation. “It’s satisfying to know that there is a research culture of making the greatest impact.”
Simon says he hopes sharing his reasons for supporting ovarian cancer research will help educate others about the devastating disease and foster additional support. “Right now with ovarian cancer, there aren’t as many survivors to tell their stories,” Simon says. “We really want those survivors.”
September 19, 2012
Boston Realty Advisors invites you to join the 5th annual event at Longwood Cricket Club. The day will include tennis on the grass courts and a networking cocktail reception at night. All funds raised will support the BIDMC Parkinson’s Disease Center.learn more