Origins of ovarian cancer will be subject of new study

Craig Gustafson

University researchers received a four-year, $2 million grant Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Defense to study ovarian cancer.
The Army Medical Research and Material Command gave the grant to the University’s Cancer Center to investigate the role of angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels, in cancer development.
Sundaram Ramakrishnan, an associate professor of pharmacology, obstetrics and gynecology, will lead the study that will bring staff from the University together with a research team from the University of Washington in Seattle.
“Our goal is to identify the cause of ovarian cancer and develop prevention strategies,” he said.
The grant will focus on four subprojects related to ovarian cancer:
ù the role of genetically engineered proteins in limiting the growth of new blood vessels to the tumor;
ù the biology of ovarian cancer development;
ù the design of new molecules to inhibit blood vessel development; and
ù the way ovarian cancer cells interact with cells in the abdominal wall.
Ramakrishnan and his team will focus on how to prevent tumors from receiving new blood cells. Cutting off a tumor’s blood supply would, in effect, cut off its lifeline and slow the cancer’s progression.
“Cancer can survive without blood vessels, but (tumors) need them to grow,” Ramakrishnan said.
Researchers will use hens in their testing. The bird was chosen because an average of 30 percent of hens develop ovarian cancer after they lay eggs.
If researchers can reduce the incidence of cancer in the hens, similar methods and technology can be adapted to reduce ovarian cancer in women.
Officials emphasized that ovarian cancer will naturally occur. The hens will not be given any tumors.
Although ovarian cancer is rare in respect to other cancers — one in 70 women develop it, compared to one in eight with breast cancer — it is among the most aggressive and deadly of all gynecological cancers.
Between 1985 and 1995, the number of diagnosed increased 30 percent and the number of related deaths increased by 18 percent.
According to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, more than half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer die within five years.
Researchers say that early detection is the key to fighting the disease. There is a more than 90 percent chance of survival when the cancer is detected before it spreads beyond the ovaries.
The problem is that only 24 percent of women are diagnosed in the early stages.
Ramakrishnan said ovulation is one factor linked to the development of ovarian cancer. Women who use orally administered contraceptives and have several children are less likely to be stricken with tumors.
The repetitive wounding and repair process of the reproductive cycle contributes to the development of malignant cells in ovaries.
Officials said the study will add to the University Cancer Center’s already impressive reputation.
Ramakrishnan said the University is ranked number one nationally in cancer-patient survival.

Craig Gustafson covers the Medical School and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233.