Researcher's Ovarian Cancer Discovery Takes on Special Meaning

June 27, 2018 | by City of Hope

Benjamin Paz Surgeons Gone Global | City of HopeTGen Ovarian Cancer Discovery | City of Hope Jessica Lang, Ph.D.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of the reproductive cancers.
Typically, it strikes postmenopausal women, but one very rare form — small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type (SCCOHT) — targets young women and girls, killing two-thirds of these patients within two years.
“I am a young scientist, age 30, and these women are even younger than I am,” said Jessica Lang, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Will Hendricks Lab within the Integrated Cancer Genomics Division at TGen, an affiliate of City of Hope. “They may have kids of their own — they may be kids themselves. Because this is a reproductive cancer, they may never have the ability to bear children, if they do survive this cancer at all.”
Lang’s research has taken on special meaning this year as she anticipates the birth of her first child — a daughter.
These women receive their diagnosis when they are in the prime time of their lives: launching their careers, starting their families and exploring the world,” she said. “We want to find effective treatments for these young women that will give them hope to live a long life — or even to have a fighting chance.”
Now, there is hope: The results of a study published earlier this year by TGen researchers in the journal Clinical Cancer Research suggest an existing leukemia drug, ponatinib, shows promise against SCCOHT. Lang was co-lead author on the study with Hendricks.
Additionally, Sunil Sharma, M.D., TGen’s deputy director of clinical sciences and director of applied cancer research and drug discovery, helped develop a drug, seclidemstat, that also shows promise against SCCOHT.

An Early Insight

From discovery of the driver for this cancer to development of a possible treatment, TGen has been leading the charge against SCCOHT.
In 2014, TGen led an international team that identified a mutation in the SMARCA4 gene that causes SCCOHT. The American Society of Clinical Oncology recognized the discovery as one of the year’s biggest cancer research breakthroughs in its publication, Clinical Care Advances 2015.
Now, the team is on the verge of testing these promising treatments in clinical trials, thanks to support from Colleen’s Dream Foundation, an Arizona-based nonprofit founded by Nicole Cundiff and her husband, Billy, a veteran kicker in the NFL. Colleen’s Dream recently awarded TGen $450,000 to fund a clinical trial for these new ovarian cancer treatments.
“The research being done at TGen is some of the most exciting we’ve ever seen,” said Nicole Cundiff, CEO of Colleen’s Dream Foundation. “Whether the drug they developed leads to another amazing discovery, or it becomes a first line ovarian cancer treatment, we truly believe what they’re doing will move the needle and we couldn’t be more proud to support an institute located here in Arizona.”
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