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Funding Ovarian Cancer Research & Searching for the Holy Grail … a Cure

To say that a cure for ovarian cancer, or any cancer for that matter, is the “holy grail” of cancer research is like saying the sky is blue. We all know a cure is the goal. If a cure is the goal, then improved detection, new prevention methods, and new treatments are the low-hanging fruit. This is why the Rivkin Center continues its commitment to investing in cutting edge research to prevent, detect, and yes, cure ovarian cancer.

Every year, the Rivkin Center funds promising research in ovarian cancer, selecting researchers and studies through a highly competitive process. Each application is individually reviewed by a panel of nationally recognized experts for its scientific merit, novelty, and potential to affect the prevention, detection, treatment, and understanding of the disease. Our grants provide seed-funding so that our Awardees can obtain the necessary data to leverage funding from larger federal sources.

The Rivkin Center awards three different types of grants each year to support ovarian cancer research:

  • Pilot Study Awards provide $75,000 over two years to fund novel ideas and innovative approaches to long-standing problems in the field.
  • Scientific Scholar Awards support young investigators with $120,000 over two years so that we can recruit the brightest minds into ovarian cancer research.
  • Bridge Funding Awards provide $30,000 over six months for researchers to improve their high scoring, but unfunded, applications to larger federal funding sources before resubmission.

We are excited to announce our 2022 Rivkin Center Ovarian Cancer Research Grant awardees. This year, we are funding four Pilot Study Awards, two Scientific Scholar Awards, and one Bridge Funding Award. These researchers are leading high-impact projects focused on overcoming resistance to therapy, discovering biomarkers for early detection, improving the efficacy of immunotherapies, and improving the quality of life for ovarian cancer survivors.

2022 Pilot Study Awardees

  • Dr. Toni Antalis at the University of Maryland, Baltimore is using the Rivkin funding to uncover a specific mechanism of chemoresistance to develop a therapy that can re-sensitize metastatic tumors to chemotherapy.
  • Dr. Lori Brotto at the University of British Columbia will work with survivors to optimize an online program to psychologically help ovarian cancer survivors with sexual health concerns post-treatment.
  • Dr. Hector Franco at the University of North Carolina at Chapel seeks to understand how the expression of genes changes as tumors become resistant to treatment so that he can identify new therapeutic targets.
  • Dr. Priyanka Verma at Washington University in St. Louis plans to elucidate a specific mechanism of PARPi resistance to identify new drug targets and identify patients that would benefit from such therapies.

2022 Scientific Scholar Awardees

  • Dr. Sarah Gitto at the University of Pennsylvania will study the characteristics of immune cells to identify ovarian cancer patients who are good candidates for immunotherapies.
  • Dr. Sneha Saxena at Massachusetts General will study a modification to DNA bases that can lead to replication stress in order to identify novel therapeutics and to identify biomarkers for early detection.

2022 Bridge Funding Awardee

  • Dr. Carrie House at San Diego State University plans to uncover a specific mechanism by which chemotherapy can promote ovarian cancer cells to develop into cancer stem cells that are resistant to chemotherapy and responsible for recurrent tumors.

These awards are made possible by you, our donors and supporters, through your generous and continued support. Together, we are committed to funding this vital work. Together, we may just find a cure. As long as we continue to fund cutting edge ovarian cancer research we will move ever closer toward that holy grail.

We will be featuring each of our 2022 Awardees on our social media channels in the coming weeks. Stay tuned to get to know each of them and hear what drives their passion for ovarian cancer research.

Talk to your Family

Talking to your family and identifying cancer in your family tree can be a good indicator of your health risks. Download our Family Tree Worksheet here.  Be sure to include yourself, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Get Educated

Know your body and be proactive about your health. Learn about your breast and ovarian health. Learn about the risk factors and signs & symptoms for breast and ovarian cancer.

Trusted Healthcare Provider

Having a relationship with a health care provider you know and trust is one of the most important decisions you’ll make about your health care. Click here to find a provider

Higher Risk in the Ashkenazi Jewish Population

In the general population, around 1 in 400 people carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. People of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have a 1 in 40 chance of carrying a BRCA mutation, making them 10 times as likely to carry a BRCA mutation as someone in the general population. Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you have a BRCA mutation then there is a 50% chance of passing the mutation on to your children, whether they are boys or girls. It’s important to note that these mutations significantly increase risk, but are not a guarantee a person will get cancer.

Why is the Ashkenazi Jewish population at higher risk?

Over 90% of the BRCA mutations found in the Jewish community are one of three “founder mutations”. A founder mutation is a specific gene mutation in a population that was founded by a small group of ancestors that were geographically or culturally isolated. Because the population was isolated, the rate of founder mutations in descendants is much higher than it would be if the population were larger and co-mingling with more genetically diverse populations. A large expansion in the population caused the current high frequency of the mutations in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. If you are of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, the chance of carrying a BRCA gene mutation compared to the general population is increased tenfold. BRCA mutations can be passed down from either your mother’s or father’s side, and may be associated with any of the following cancers:
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer, fallopian tube, peritoneal cancer
  • Male breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Colon Cancer

Ready to take action? Knowledge is power. Take this short quiz to be proactive about your health.

Genes 101

Our bodies are made of many tiny building blocks called cells. Our cells contain a copy of our genome – all of the DNA genetic code we inherited from our parents. Our genome is organized into 46 chromosomes, 23 inherited from mom and 23 from dad. Each chromosome has hundreds or thousands of genes. Each gene has the instructions to make a protein that may control the structure or function of cells, can determine many things including how tall we are or the color of our eyes. Genes also contain instructions for many things inside of us that we cannot see, such as how our bones are formed or how our heart works. Each gene is made up of molecules called nucleic acids (A, T, C, and G). The specific sequence of the nucleic acids holds the instructions that control all the components and their functions in cells.

If the DNA sequence is changed, like a spelling mistake, the instructions may not make sense. The technical term for this change is “mutation,” meaning there is a change to the usual genetic code that may change the instructions stored in the gene. A mutation in a gene that repairs DNA damage or controls cell growth can increase the risk of developing cancer.

Sporadic vs Hereditary Cancers:

Ovarian and breast cancer can be either sporadic or hereditary. Sporadic cancers make up the vast majority (85-90%) of ovarian and breast cancers and are not associated with family history of either cancer or inherited cancer-associated mutations. Sporadic cancers arise from genetic mutations acquired in some cells of the body by events part of normal metabolism and environmental factors. This type of cancer can happen to anyone. Most acquired gene mutations are not shared among relatives or passed on to children.

Hereditary (also known as inherited, or familial) cancers are those that occur due to genetic mutations that are inherited from mom or dad. Other blood relatives may also share these same gene mutations. Parents give one copy of each gene to their children. If a parent has a genetic mutation in a gene, each of their children have a 50% chance of inheriting that mutation. Therefore, even in families with hereditary cancer, not all family members inherit the mutation that is causing cancer, and their risk of cancer is similar to the average person in the general population. Individuals who are suspected to have a family history with high incidence of ovarian, breast, and other cancers may be offered genetic testing to try to find the specific genetic mutation that may put them at risk. Importantly, individuals who do not have a known genetic mutation but have high incidence of ovarian, breast, or other cancers in their families are still considered at higher risk for developing those cancers.

Hereditary cancers often occur at an earlier age than the sporadic form of the same cancer, so experts often recommend starting cancer screening at a younger age for individuals at high risk for hereditary cancer. Hereditary cancers can also be more aggressive than the sporadic form of the same cancer. Individuals who have inherited a gene mutation may be at a higher risk for more than one type of cancer.

BRCA 1 and BRCA 2: Most Common hereditary breast and ovarian cancer

The genes that are most commonly involved in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) are BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes are named for their link to breast (BR) cancer (CA), but they are also linked to ovarian cancer risk as well as other cancers. Both women and men can inherit mutations in these HBOC genes. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes that have a usual role in our body of providing instructions on repairing DNA damage and preventing cancer. When a family has an inherited mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, this leads to an increase in cancer risk. Not every man or woman who has inherited a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop cancer, but people who have a mutation do have a significanlty increased chance of developing cancer, particularly cancer of the breasts or ovaries.

While breast and ovarian cancers are the most common cancers diagnosed in people with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, the risk of some other cancers is also increased. Men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations have a higher risk of early-onset prostate cancer than men without mutations in either gene. Other cancers seen at increased rates, particularly in individuals with BRCA2 mutations, include pancreatic cancer and melanoma. Researchers are continuing to find new genes that are involved in hereditary breast and/or ovarian cancer so it is important to follow up with a genetic counselor on a regular basis if hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is likely in your family.

Talk to your family about your health history and take the Assess Your Risk quiz here