Ovarian Cancer Institute Lab Opens at Tech

Every year more than 27,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Approximately one third of them will survive more than five years.

There is no diagnostic test for ovarian cancer and no obvious symptoms until late in its development. As a result, about 75 percent of ovarian cancers are detected at Stages III and IV when it has spread throughout a woman's abdomen. At those late stages, extensive surgery and chemotherapy are required, with no assurance of lasting success.

Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn and "Driving Miss Daisy's" Jessica Tandy are a few familiar women who fell victim to this stealthy and often deadly disease.

However, if ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated at Stage I when it is confined to the ovaries, the survival rate skyrockets to more than 85 percent. This startling statistic is one of the factors driving the doctors and researchers of the Ovarian Cancer Institute (OCI) to dramatically raise survival rates by developing a simple diagnostic blood test to detect ovarian cancer in its earliest stages, as well as develop more effective therapies to treat the cancer and diminish its rate of reoccurrence.

To rapidly advance the science about ovarian cancer, OCI has opened a new research laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology. OCI is headed by John McDonald, Ph.D., professor and chair of the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Benedict B. Benigno, M.D., noted Atlanta gynecologic oncologist of the Southeastern Gynecologic Oncology Group.

This partnership between a major research university and a large medical practice provides scientists and researchers with access to a significant number of high quality tissue samples, complete with medical histories.

Benigno commented, "On average our practice performs at least one surgery each day for ovarian cancer. The result is a continual stream of high-quality and documented tissue samples for our broad research agenda. We are searching for 'markers' that will lead to an affordable diagnostic test, as well as developing much more refined chemotherapy approaches based on new molecular profiles of ovarian cancer subtypes that may respond differently to treatment."

Armed with these well-documented samples, the OCI Laboratory draws on the combined expertise of preeminent scientists and bioinformaticists from major Georgia universities and colleges. This multidisciplinary approach means that researchers with different backgrounds and approaches can apply their expertise to the same sample and compare results to rapidly gain new insights and understanding.

OCI researchers are from the Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Emory University, the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and Clark Atlanta University. The diverse team includes members from the disciplines of bio- and medical chemistry; molecular biology and medicine, genetics; food and nutrition; statistics, mathematics, bioinformatics, and computer science; and veterinary medicine.

McDonald notes, "By weaving together a variety of disciplines into a tight network of world-class researchers we have the opportunity to rapidly advance the science associated with ovarian cancer. Our laboratory-based insights will be further clarified by statistically correlating our experimental results with detailed patient histories to identify the potential impacts of a variety of factors including heredity, age and lifestyle."

Among related research efforts, OCI scientists are learning more about the origins of various types of ovarian cancer. This knowledge will lead to a greater understanding of why some tumors become resistant to chemotherapy, new insights into what causes a cancer to spread, and ultimately, to the development of innovative and much more effective therapies.

OCI research is funded by the Georgia Cancer Coalition, various federal grants and private donations.

September is designated as Ovarian Cancer Month.