Research in Gynecologic Oncology

Clinical/Translational Research

The Department of Gynecologic Oncology investigative efforts focus on clinical and translational research. All staff members are active in one or more areas. Approximately 50 active phase I and phase II trials are in place. A multidisciplinary collaboration between the departments of Gynecologic Oncology, Gynecologic Medical Oncology, Radiation Therapy and Pathology provides opportunities for research studies in prevention and treatment of gynecologic malignancies such as cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer and uterine sarcomas. An archival bank and frozen tumor bank for ovarian cancer specimens is well established. Gynecologic Oncology faculty are members of the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) and Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) and the department maintains direct collaborative relationships with both organizations. Resources and funding for investigational studies are provided by these cooperative agencies, pharmaceutical companies, the National Cancer Institute and private donations.

The department has a robust clinical trials program that encompasses prevention, early detection, innovative treatment and surgical techniques. Current high-priority trials include studies of intraoperative lymphatic mapping in vulvar, vaginal and cervical cancers, screening of cervical cancer using fluorescence spectroscopy, new drug combinations for both newly diagnosed and recurrent cancers, trials using stem cell rescue high-dose chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and biologic therapy for cervical, ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Departmental investigators are also focused on several aspects of health sciences research, including studies of patient preferences, quality of life and symptom management in ovarian cancer patients, patient preferences regarding prophylactic mastectomy and oophorectomy, studies of long-term survivors of malignant ovarian germ cell tumors, fertility after conservative treatment of gynecologic cancers and estrogen replacement therapy after diagnosis of endometrial cancer.

Translational studies include molecular and genetic studies of borderline ovarian tumors and low-grade serous carcinomas, molecular studies of long-term survivors of ovarian cancer, studies of histotyping and chemosensitivity of ovarian cancer using gene expression array technology, studies of cytokines, interleukins and dendritic cells and preclinical gene therapy studies.

The Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program leads a multidisciplinary clinical and research effort in the treatment, prevention and early detection of ovarian cancer. Over 30 physicians and scientists, the largest team of recognized experts ever assembled in the field of ovarian cancer, participate in fulfilling the mission and major goals of this program. In 1999, the program garnered two major peer-reviewed grants – a $10 million SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) grant from the National Cancer Institute for the study of ovarian cancer, and a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Defense for the study of the chemoprevention of ovarian cancer. In addition, departmental investigators received an $8 million program project grant for the study of optical imaging of cervical neoplasia.

The Sprint for Life race was held for the first time in May 1998. Over 1,200 runners participated and in excess of $140,000 was raised. The Sprint for Life race, which is in its seventh year, is held annually on the first Saturday in May. Over 2,200 runners/walkers participated in the May 2003 Sprint for Life and funds in excess of $250,000 were collected. The first Women’s Symposium, held in conjunction with the first race, is now presented annually, providing information, educational presentations and demonstrations to program participants. An International Conference is also held each year to share and exchange knowledge with experts in the field of ovarian cancer. This conference attracts physicians and scientists from around the world.

Basic Science Research

The Department of Gynecologic Oncology supports many basic science research laboratories, which perform studies in immunology, endocrinology, ovarian cancer research and vaccine research. One of the many goals is to develop immunotherapies that are effective in the treatment of ovarian and other gynecologic cancers. Other research efforts include identifying and characterizing the molecular events involved in the initiation and progression of estrogen-related cancers, the relationship between bioavailable estrogen and epidemiology and prevention of cervical, ovarian and breast cancer among low-income and minority populations. Ongoing collaborative studies include the effects of transfer of p53, p16 and p21 on ovarian, cervical, endometrial and breast cancer cell lines and the effect of combining radiation with adenovirus-mediated p53. The department also collaborates with Dr. Robert Bast, Dr. Gordon Mills and other Medicine faculty, on numerous research projects, grants and programs.