Research and Training Grants in Ovarian Cancer

The American Cancer Society funds scientists and medical professionals who study cancer. We also fund health professional training grants for nurses, social workers, and doctors to help advance their education and experience in cancer research. 

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37

Grants

Total Ovarian Cancer Grants in Effect as of August 1, 2019

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$11

Million

Total Ovarian Cancer Grant Funding in Effect as of August 1, 2019

Spotlight on Ovarian Cancer Grantees

We use a rigorous and independent peer review to select the most innovative research and training projects to fund. Here are some examples of the research areas and scientists the American Cancer Society funds.

Turning Off 2 Proteins to Slow High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer in Mice

Grantee: Pamela K. Kreeger, PhD
Institution: University of Wisconsin-Madison 
Focus Area: Mission Boost
Grant Term: 1/1/2019 to 12/31/2020

The Challenge: High-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC) is the most common kind of ovarian cancer and begins growing in one of the fallopian tubes, which carry a woman’s egg from the ovaries to the uterus. HGSOC can quickly spread to another place in the body. Here’s how: Tumor cells break off from the first tumor and float through the fluid in the abdominal cavity, trying to attach to organs in the abdomen. 

The Research: With previous ACS grant funding, Pamela Kreeger, PhD, and her team figured out that some immune cells called macrophages can release a protein that HGSOC needs to spread. When abdominal organs interact with this protein, they make a sticky protein of their own. These two sticky proteins make it easier for the cancer cells floating in the fluid to attach to an organ or other body part and start a HGSOC tumor. Women with HGSOC have more of both these types of proteins in their body than women who don’t have HGSOC. 

Kreeger thinks that finding a way to stop the body from making these two proteins may stop HGSOC from spreading.

With new American Cancer Society funding from a Mission Boost Grant, Kreeger is studying a drug called maraviroc (sold under the brand name Selzentry) , which is used to treat certain types of HIV by targeting one of the proteins also found in HGSOC. Her aim is to determine if the drug slows the production of these proteins in mice with HGSOC in hopes that the cancer will grow more slowly or not come back at all. 

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: If maraviroc works in mice, the next hopeful step would be to test it in women who have HGSOC in a clinical trial. Ultimately, Kreeger hopes maraviroc can help women with HGSOC live longer. 

Clinical Trial: How Surgery to Prevent Ovarian Cancer Affects Risks for Noncancerous Conditions

Grantee: Vanessa Jacoby, MD
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Focus Area: Cancer Control and Prevention: Psychosocial and Behavioral Research
Term: 7/1/2013 to 6/30/2018

The Challenge: Women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have a much higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. To help prevent ovarian cancer from starting, some women at higher risk choose to have surgery to remove both fallopian tubes and both ovaries. The surgery is called risk-reducing salpingo-oophorectomy (RRSO). But the surgery can cause lasting effects. Without the hormones made by the ovaries—estrogen, progesterone, and androgen—a woman’s risk for heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis increases. So, while removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes lowers her risk for ovarian cancer, it increases her risk for other diseases that can possibly shorten her life. To help women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 who choose to have this surgery, we need more studies about how to manage the increased risk of various types of noncancerous diseases after the surgery.

The Research: During the term of her ACS grant, Vanessa Jacoby, MD, and her team enrolled patients and started conducting a clinical trial called PROSper. They enrolled 100 women between the ages of 35 and 50 who have BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. With support from a gynecological oncologist, a genetic counselor, or both, the women decided whether they wanted to remove or keep their ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Each woman in the clinical trial will be followed for 3 years. Jacoby’s team is comparing the women’s health based on their treatment choice. Each woman’s cardiovascular health and bone density will be measured each year. Twice a year, women are asked to answer questionnaires about menopausal symptoms, sexual desire and function, and quality of life.

The clinical trial started in 2014, 1 year into Jacoby’s grant term. Her grant ended on June 30, 2018, but the clinical trial is expected to continue until July 2021.

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: By better understanding the possible long-term effects of removing a woman’s ovaries and fallopian tubes, Jacoby hopes to find ways to prevent the negative health effects and improve the well-being of women after surgery. She believes preventing these side effects will involve appropriate screening for heart disease and osteoporosis, family planning, medications and treatments, and counseling that gives support and information to women as they make decisions about how to reduce their risk for ovarian cancer.

Targeted Light Therapy for Ovarian Cancer in Mice

Grantee: Mingfeng Bai, PhD*
Institution: Vanderbilt University Medical Center 
Focus Area: Cancer Drug Discovery
Grant Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2021

The Challenge: Most cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed at late stages when tumors have spread to other areas of the body. Treatment for ovarian cancer is usually surgery followed by chemotherapy. But sometimes cancer cells or tiny tumors are left behind after surgery. Some tumors may also resist chemotherapy, “refusing” to die. As a result, the cancer can return, often in less than 2 years, and for most women it is diagnosed at a late stage.

The Research: In his lab, Mingfeng Bai, PhD, is trying to develop a light-sensitive compound that binds to cancer cells. The goal is for the compound is to be especially attracted to ovarian cancer cells that are resistant to chemotherapy. Light will activate the compound to kill cancer cells.

Then Bai and his team plan to test the effectiveness of the compound on cells in the lab and then in mice. They expect few side effects because of the way they plan for the compound to target cancer cells and because should not be toxic without light. 

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: If the treatment works well in mice, the next step would be to test it in women. Their ultimate goal is for any tumor cells still in the body to be destroyed by using the light on an endoscope to activate the drug inside the cells, thereby preventing the cancer from coming back and the need for more surgery.  

*Funded by Pennsylvania CEOs Against Cancer

Trying Nanoparticles, CAR T-Cell Therapy, and CRISPR to Treat Metastatic Cancers in Mice

Grantee: Matthias Stephan, MD, PhD
Institution: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Focus Area: Leukemia, Immunology, and Blood Cell Development
Term: 7/1/2016 to 6/30/2020

The Challenge: CAR T-cell therapy requires re-engineering specific genes in a type of immune cell called T-cells. To create the treatment, a patient’s own T-cells are removed and sent to a lab, where they are changed by adding a man-made chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). Then those altered T-cells, with the added CAR, are injected back into the patient. The CAR helps the T-cells locate and destroy cancer cells.

The FDA has approved CAR T-cell drugs for certain blood cancers, but CAR T-cell drugs for solid tumors, like ovarian cancer, are only available in clinical trials. 

The Research: Matthias Stephan, MD, PhD, and his team are testing a new way to add a CAR to T-cells in mice with ovarian cancer. They’re using extremely tiny, atomic-size substances called nanoparticles to deliver genes to T-cells. That way, the re-engineering to add a CAR happens in the blood, not in a lab. The team hopes this technique may allow CAR-T treatment to start working faster than the current method.

Stephan and his team are also studying another type of programmed nanoparticle that they hope can identify different molecules on cancer cells.

In addition, the team is studying if nanoparticles can help deliver a genome editing system called CRISPR to stop the natural braking system of immune cells. They hope the nanoparticle-programmed T-cells show better results than the current method of CAR-T therapy.

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: In the future, the researchers hope doctors might be able to use a nanoparticle to treat cancer in certain people immediately, before the disease becomes advanced. 

*Funded by the HOPE Foundation

Exploring the Link Between Endometriosis and Ovarian Cancer in Mice

Grantee: Michael R. Wilson, PhD 
Institution: Michigan State University in East Lansing
Focus Area: Develop, Differentiation and Cancer
Term: 1/1/2018 to 12/31/2020

The Challenge: Some studies have suggested that having endometriosis may increase a woman’s risk for certain types of ovarian cancer. With endometriosis, some of the cells lining the inside of the uterus don’t shed during menstruation. Instead, those cells can migrate to, and grow in, other reproductive organs, including the ovary. However, there’s been little research that actually shows that cells from the uterus can start cancer in an ovary.

The Research: Michael R. Wilson, PhD, and his team want to learn how cells from the lining of the uterus to get to the ovary, as well as what causes those cells to become cancerous once they get there.

The team has genetically altered mice to have endometriosis and a type of ovarian cancer that is associated with endometriosis. Then, they take cells from the lining of the uterus in those mice and transfer them into healthy mice. They want to answer questions like: Do the cells from the lining of the uterus get “help” from other cells around them to move? Do the cells from the lining of the uterus go to the fallopian tubes first? Does the ovary do something to attract the cells from the lining of the uterus?  

To get answers, they’ll compare cells from the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries of healthy mice with the cells from the mice with endometriosis-related ovarian cancer.    

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: Wilson’s team hopes to find biomarkers that will provide signs as to if ovarian cancers can come from the uterus. Ultimately, they want their work to lead to new ways to do surgery in women that could eventually help prevent ovarian cancer related to endometriosis. 

From Our Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who pursue answers that help us understand how to prevent, detect, and treat cancer, including ovarian cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Statistics Update in 2019 Facts & Figures

Researcher: Rebecca Siegel, MPH
Institution: American Cancer Society, Intramural Research Department
ACS Research Program: Surveillance and Health Services Research

The Challenge: To understand how well cancer control is working in the United States, we need up-to-date information about the number of people affected by cancer and where they live.

The Research: Each year, the American Cancer Society’s Surveillance and Health Services Research program analyzes data on cancer in the United States, including ovarian cancers, as part of its Cancer Facts & Figures report. The process is led by Rebecca Siegel, MPH. Here are some key findings from the 2019 report.

  • Women with a higher risk of ovarian cancer include those with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, including those who have an inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or Lynch syndrome. Other risk factors include a personal history of breast cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, excess body weight, using hormone therapy after menopause, and cigarette smoking.
  • Ovarian cancer is responsible for more cancer deaths than any other gynecologic cancer.
  • From 2007 to 2016, the death rate from ovarian cancer decreased by about 2% each year.

Siegel and her team estimate that, in the U.S.:

  • 22,530 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in 2019.
  • Most (90%) will be diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer, and 52% of them will have serous ovarian cancer, the most common subtype.
  • About 14,000 women will die from ovarian cancer in 2019.

To learn about ovarian cancer based on race, ethnicity, distribution across the US, and more, see the Cancer Statistics Center.

Ovarian Cancer Special Section of Cancer Facts & Figures 2018 Helps Policy Makers and Others

Researcher: Lindsey Torre, MSPH
Institution: American Cancer Society, Intramural Research Department
ACS Research Program: Surveillance and Health Services Research

The Challenge: Women whose ovarian cancer is diagnosed before it has spread have a 90% chance of living for at least another 5 years. But, about 4 of 5 women with ovarian cancer aren’t diagnosed until the cancer has already spread. That’s why one important research priority is aimed at improving the ability to find ovarian cancer early.

The Research: The American Cancer Society’s Surveillance and Health Services Research program produced a special report on ovarian cancer in 2018. Led by Lindsey Torre, MSPH, this report included these facts about ovarian cancer.  

  • A woman whose mother, full sibling, or child has a history of ovarian cancer has a 4 times higher risk of developing it too. A woman whose grandmother, granddaughter, aunt, niece, or half-siblings has a history of ovarian cancer has a 2 times higher risk.
  • A woman whose mother, full sibling, or child has a history of breast cancer increases a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer by about 70%.
  • Almost 40% of ovarian cancer cases in women with a family history are due to mutations in the cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: These statistics about ovarian cancers provide policy makers, researchers, clinicians, cancer control advocates, patients, caregivers, and public health professionals with key data to know where improvements have been made and where more support is needed.

ACS Cancer Prevention Study II and Ovarian Cancer

Mia Gaudet, PhD, and other American Cancer Society (ACS) epidemiologists have used data collected in our Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II) for several published research projects. Here are some of their findings. 

  • Women who sit for 6 hours or more a day during leisure time (not at work) have a higher risk of ovarian cancer, and cancer in general, compared with women who sit less than 3 hours a day. 
  • Moderate to vigorous exercise, and specifically walking, does not seem to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
  • For every 5-years a postmenopausal woman takes estrogen only (not with progestin), her risk for ovarian cancer increases 25%. Women who used estrogen only hormone replacement therapy for 20 years or more have a nearly 3 times higher risk for ovarian cancer.
  • Women who do shift work have a higher risk of dying from ovarian cancer than women who don’t have a rotating schedule. 

The ACS’s CPS-II Nutrition Cohort is part of the Collaborative Group on Epidemiological Studies of Ovarian Cancer. This group helped establish the increased risk for ovarian cancer in women with excess body weight and the decreased risk of ovarian cancer for women who use oral contraceptives.

Using blood samples collected from CPS-II and CPS-3, ACS investigators are collaborating with Ovarian Cancer Cohort Consortium (OC3) investigators to find biomarkers that identify early signs of ovarian cancer and to find information about risk factors that is hard to capture through questionnaires.  

ACS epidemiologists also actively study how to identify inherited genetic mutations that increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer.

ACS Ovarian Cancer News