AnaLisa DiFeo, PhD, Instructor in the Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has been honored by the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) with the Liz Tilberis Grant. Named for fashion icon Liz Tilberis who died of ovarian cancer, the grant is awarded to young researchers in their first faculty appointment who are conducting laboratory research that will advance ovarian cancer detection and treatment. Dr. DiFeo will receive $450,000 over three years to study chemotherapeutic resistance in epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), the most lethal gynecologic malignancy in the United States.
"I am honored to be recognized by the OCRF with this prestigious award," said Dr. DiFeo. "Ovarian is one of the deadliest cancers, and we have a long way to go in improving detection and treatment. With this grant I plan to continue to study the mechanisms behind chemotherapy resistance in these tumors and hopefully identify a new drug target that will help circumvent it."
Multi-drug resistance and tumor recurrence after chemotherapy are common in women with EOC. Researchers have been unable to predict patient response to therapy because they do not have a thorough understanding of the complex mechanism within the tumor that causes drug resistance. Dr. DiFeo's research under the grant will be dedicated to studying potential new drug targets for adjunctive therapies that sensitize the tumor to chemotherapy. One such target is microRNAs, a class of RNA that regulates the expression of multiple genes.
Dr. DiFeo will study microRNA profiles and evaluate whether there is a difference in these profiles in EOC tumors that are sensitive to chemotherapy and those that are not. The main focus of her project is to determine the biological and functional relevance of the microRNAs that found to be associated chemoresistance.
The research team hopes to validate the clinical relevance and determine the function of one family of microRNAmiR181using a clinical cohort of ovarian cancer specimens. Using an ovarian cancer mouse model, they will evaluate if targeting miR181 sensitizes tumors previously resistant to chemotherapy. If so, the research team will have identified a new drug target that could overcome chemoresistance in EOC.
"We believe that microRNAs may play a critical role in chemoresistance and that they may represent predictive marker for personalized therapy for each patient," said Dr. DiFeo. "MicroRNAs may be the key to overcoming chemoresistance due to their ability to regulate multiple gene expression, and understanding the function of these miRNAs may provide a significant step forward in reducing the burden of disease."
A graduate of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Dr. DiFeo's laboratory interests are focused on uncovering novel ways to improve the detection and treatment of ovarian cancer with a specific interest in understanding the mechanisms of ovarian cancer chemoresistance. The overall goal of the laboratory is to identify novel biomarkers of ovarian cancer therapeutic response and generate novel targeted molecular therapies that can work alone or in conjunction with current treatment options to combat ovarian cancer. In addition to her 2010 Liz Tilberis Award from OCRF, she was the recipient of the American Association of Cancer Research AstraZeneca Scholar-in-Training Award in 2008, and has also recently received a research grant from the Department of Defense.
Liz Tilberis was a fashion icon and editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar. The grant was established in her name in 2000, the year after she died of ovarian cancer. A national organization with headquarters in New York, OCRF is the largest private non-profit organization in the United States dedicated exclusively to funding ovarian cancer research. To date, OCRF has awarded 164 grants for ovarian cancer research, an investment of nearly $40 million.
Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women. Worldwide, about 200,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 125,000 women die from this disease. In the United States alone, there will be approximately 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States each year, and about 15,500 women will die of the disease. Currently there is no effective means of early detection.
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