Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death in North America, and the second most common gynecological cancer. Largely asymptomatic, over 70% of affected patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease, where the five-year survival rate is around 40%. Ovarian cancer treatment consists of a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Many women respond positively to initial treatment, but most will recur and die. The aim of the project is to improve current treatment modalities for ovarian cancer to ensure better survival and quality of life. The team has spent the last two decades studying ovarian cancer, developing cell line models of the disease and assembling one of the largest tumor banks in ovarian cancer.
Collectively, their research points to an “Achilles heel” related to chromosome stability and repair in ovarian cancer cells that they will exploit to identify new therapeutic avenues. Their approach is based on new drugs they have developed against a target gene called Ran that protects cancer cells with chromosomal defects, as well as drugs blocking chromosome repair that are in clinical trials or already approved. The team is particularly interested in drugs that target a protein called PARP, which are already incorporated into the treatment of ovarian cancer, as well as drugs that influence a cellular phenomenon called senescence, a premature cellular aging caused by anticancer drugs that appears to be important when ovarian cancer cells are exposed to therapeutic agents. As no currently approved drug is curative, they are particularly interested in rational combinations that are more effective than monotherapies.
Their research will help to better determine which patients are likely to respond to treatment based on tumor characteristics, forming the basis of rational patient stratification known as personalized medicine. This approach has the advantage of improving outcomes while reducing the use of drugs that are not effective for some patients, thus improving women’s overall quality of life by limiting unnecessary toxic treatments.