HI scientist researches new treatment for ovarian cancer

Published 5:11 pm Friday, April 16, 2021

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Patients who originally respond to treatment for ovarian cancer can see that in the majority of cases, cancer returns and acquires resistance to chemotherapy. This is the problem Dr. Ilana Chefetz, head of the Cancer Stem Cells & Necroptosis lab at the Hormel Institute, is trying to solve. Chefetz has recently published a research and a review paper tackling these treatment-resistant ovarian cancer cells.

In Chefetz’s research, “The MEK1/2 Pathway as a Therapeutic Target in High-Grade Serous Ovarian Carcinoma,” published in Cancers, she and her team treated high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma with the cancer drug trametinib and found that while the drug stopped cell proliferation and tumor growth, especially in treatment-resistant cells, it did not kill the cells and promoted a cancer stem-like characteristics in cells.

Cancer stem cells are cancer cells that act like stem cells – they self-renew enabling tumor initiation and differentiate into fast proliferating non-stem cells that can contribute to fast tumor growth. Treatments that simply shrink tumors are not enough if remaining cancer stem cells will then simply cause tumors to reappear.

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Chefetz’s article, “How to win the ovarian cancer stem cell battle: destroying the roots,” published in Cancer Drug Resistance, tackles the problem of cancer stem cells in successfully treating ovarian cancer. This review paper describes the need to find effective treatments that target cancer stem cells and possible benefits of combining traditional chemotherapy treatment with the cancer stem cell-targeted treatment to prevent cancer recurrence and cure ovarian cancer patients.

“Assessing how novel targeted therapies affect the various cancer stem cell populations is required to rationally design new treatment regimens in order to prevent recurrent disease,” Chefetz said.

In 2021, the American Cancer Society estimates that over 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and over 13,000 women will lose their battle with ovarian cancer. Only about 20 percent of ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, and the later ovarian cancer is diagnosed the more difficult it is to treat successfully.

Going forward, Chefetz and her team are looking at combining treatments that both stop tumor growth in treatment-resistant cancer cells and kill cancer stem cells in order to stop ovarian cancers from returning after treatment.