Project title: Biomarkers of Sensitivity to Aromatase Inhibitors in Women with Recurrent Low-Grade Serous Ovarian/Peritoneal Cancer
Research Institute: MD Anderson Cancer Center
Lead Researcher: Dr. David Gershenson
Project cost: $150,000
Funded by: STAAR Ovarian Cancer Foundation
STAAR Ovarian Cancer Foundation to Fund Biomarkers of Sensitivity to Aromatase Inhibitors Research
A new research study at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center funded by STAAR Ovarian Cancer Foundation will determine if biomarkers can identify how aromatase inhibitors influence clinical outcomes of patients with low-grade serous ovarian cancer.
Aromatase inhibitors such as letrozole, anastrozole and exemestane reduce the level of estrogen in the body. They have been found to be effective against low-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (LGSOC), which can be resistant to chemotherapy. There is currently no known biomarker to predict if the patient will benefit from this type of treatment. If this biomarker exists, physicians would be able to use it to assess which patients are likely to benefit from the use of an aromatase inhibitor and which patients will not.
“As a patient that has been on each of the three types of aromatase inhibitors (letrozole, exemestane, and anastrozole) in under a year, a study like this is very exciting,” said Morgan Gaynor, ovarian cancer survivor and Secretary of STAAR Ovarian Cancer Foundation. “These medications can come with debilitating side effects so it can be hard to find one to stick with. Being able to know which treatments will or won’t work for someone is a major incentive towards medication compliance, which leads to better outcomes.”
The study will examine the molecular biology in LGSOC of dozens of women that have recurrent disease and were treated with aromatase inhibitors. Researchers will study tissue from LGSOC patients for gene abnormalities and the proteins expressed.
“We are extremely grateful to STAAR for their generous support of this important research initiative. Low-grade serous ovarian carcinoma is a rare subtype of ovarian cancers that is relatively insensitive to chemotherapy,” said Dr. David Gershenson of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “And because we know endocrine therapy can be successful, we need to better understand for whom.”
LGSOC is a rare and extremely underfunded subtype of ovarian cancer, making up fewer than 10% of ovarian cancer cases.
MD Anderson Cancer Center is a world leader in LGSOC research. Doctors there were instrumental in helping identify it as a unique cancer in 2004 and their research has formed the basis for many of the current treatment recommendations. In 2018, they added LGSOC to their Cancer Moon Shots Program.
STAAR Ovarian Cancer Foundation is the only US-based nonprofit dedicated to low-grade serous ovarian cancer. It was co-founded by three women with LGSOC in early 2020. The foundation works with the global charity Cure Our Ovarian Cancer to advance research opportunities in the United States to find better treatment options for LGSOC.
Project title: Estrogen Signaling in Low-Grade Serous Carcinoma (LGSOC)
Research Institute: MD Anderson Cancer Center
Lead Researcher: Dr. KK Wong PhD, Professor
Start date: June 2021
Project cost: $70,000
Funded by: STAAR Ovarian Cancer Foundation and Cure Our Ovarian Cancer
STAAR Ovarian Cancer and international partner Cure Our Ovarian Cancer are proud to announce the funding of their first US based research grant at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
STAAR Ovarian Cancer and Cure Our Ovarian Cancer have jointly contributed $70,000 to the project entitled: Estrogen Signaling in Low-Grade Serous Carcinoma (LGSC). The project seeks to better understand how LGSC can use estrogen to grow and spread – and identify potential targets to improve treatment options.
“This is a unique opportunity to study the complex and elusive estrogen receptor signaling pathway in low-grade serous ovarian cancer, which would hopefully result in a successful and improved anti-hormone therapy,” said Dr. KK Wong of MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Estrogens are major regulators of growth and differentiation in normal ovaries and potentially play a role in the development and progression of ovarian cancer, but the mechanisms of action remain unclear.
The actions of estrogens on ovarian tissue are mediated by estrogen receptors. There are two major types of estrogen receptors – ERα and ERβ. Furthermore, multiple variants of the ERα have been identified in LGSC. The types of estrogen receptors found in LGSC are different from those in normal ovary.
Hormonal maintenance therapies (HMT) have improved the progression-free survival of patients with recurrent low-grade ovarian cancer, but unfortunately, these treatments have not achieved comparable results as in breast cancer.
Preliminary data suggests that estrogen signaling is unique in low-grade serous cancer, and there is a need to further explore and understand the mechanisms underpinning it, which could provide new and clinically relevant insights regarding the role of estrogen in low-grade serous ovarian cancer.
Researchers will use advanced genetic sequencing and laboratory techniques to identify the specific type of estrogen receptors involved in LGSC (which they think will differ from breast cancer) and investigate the molecular and genetic characteristics involved in its expression.
The study has the potential to find biomarkers to predict response to HMT, in addition to insights which researchers hope will guide future research to help HMT work better.
Funds from the 2020 September Step Up event along with and hundreds of generous members of the public, helped make this grant possible. Nicole Andrews, who hosted a Step Up Challenge in her hometown prior to joining STAAR's Board of Directors shared her experience:
"Being diagnosed with Low Grade Serous Cancer (LGSC), a rare form of ovarian cancer, was shocking. I felt scared, shut down, and out of control. The Step-Up Campaign gave me the opportunity to transform my thoughts and fears into constructive energy and focus on creating a positive future. I’m honored that my friends and family “stepped up” alongside me and helped me exceed my fundraising goal. While it’s unusual to know how funds you raise are used, I was thrilled to learn our donations are already working to help researchers understand why and how LGSC uses estrogen so that enhanced treatment options can be developed. My deepest thanks to all working tirelessly to improve outcomes for LGSC survivors, bringing invaluable hope and healing to me and my fellow LGSC sisters."
MD Anderson Cancer Center are world leaders in low-grade serous carcinoma (LGSC) research. They were instrumental in helping identify LGSC as a unique cancer in 2004. In addition, their research has formed the basis for many of the current LGSC treatment recommendations. In 2018, they added LGSC to their Cancer Moon Shots Program.
Cure Our Ovarian Cancer (COOC) is a global charity dedicated to improving the survival of people with LGSC through research. It was founded in 2018 by New Zealand woman Jane Ludemann following her diagnosis. Today COOC supports researchers in five countries, including the United States of America.