The Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Richard G. Moore, M.D., has identified a gene (HE4) that plays a major role in ovarian cancer, and he recently received a coveted Mary Kay Foundation cancer research award to develop a therapy that targets the gene.
Moore leads Wilmot’s Gynecologic Oncology program, with a special interest in research into ovarian and endometrial cancer as well as clinical care. Previously he developed a test that was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to detect ovarian cancer in women who have an ovarian cyst or pelvic mass.
The test works by identifying a protein, HE4, which in abundance seems to be necessary for the growth of tumors. High levels of HE4 in a cancer specimen usually suggest the tumor is aggressive, resistant to chemotherapy, and able to hide from the patient’s own immune system (which, under normal circumstances, might destroy cancer). Not all cancer cells over-express HE4 but about 80 percent of ovarian cancers do, Moore said. The gene is highly abundant in 20 percent to 40 percent of patients.
In the laboratory, Moore and his team have demonstrated in mice and in cell cultures that by blocking HE4 with an experimental treatment they developed, the tumor is once again vulnerable to the effects of chemotherapy. Inhibiting HE4 also might activate the patient’s immune system to fight the disease, Moore’s team hypothesizes.
However, the drug they’ve developed for use in the lab is toxic to the human liver, so a new version of the therapy is being sought. The two-year Mary Kay grant for $100,000, as well as support from UR Ventures, the technology transfer office at the University of Rochester, is funding the discovery of a drug that’s safe for human clinical trials.
Moore’s team includes Rakesh Singh, Ph.D., who is the chief investigator in his lab; KyuKwang Kim, Ph.D.; and Weimin Kaufman, Ph.D., licensing manager at UR Ventures. The Mary Kay Foundation awards more than $1 million a year to scientists focused on curing cancers that affect women. Since 1996 the Foundation has given approximately $22 million.
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