Research progress report: Identifying a biomarker for ovarian cancer early detection

Published on September 25, 2014

Updated on February 13, 2018

(photo: Dr. Kast and his team dramatize attacking a cancer cell)

The Prevent Cancer Foundation supports research in cancer prevention and early detection and has provided funding for more than 480 grants or fellowships at more than 150 of the most prestigious academic institutions and medical centers across the country. The goal of the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Research Program is to identify and fund innovative projects with potential to make substantial contributions to cancer prevention and early detection.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation awarded W. Martin Kast, PhD, of the University of Southern California Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center the Genentech Research Award in Ovarian Cancer last year for his project on identifying a possible biomarker for ovarian cancer early detection. Ovarian cancer accounts for more deaths than other cancers of the female reproductive system, and an estimated 21,980 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014. As we think teal for September, which is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Kast explains the impact that his research may have on the early detection of ovarian cancer.

What led to your interest in ovarian cancer prevention research?
My interest in ovarian cancer prevention research began during a collaboration with scientists at Texas Tech. Our objective was to identify potential targets in parts of the immune system to fight ovarian cancer. One of these targets turned out to be Sp17, a protein that was highly expressed in cancerous ovarian tissue and expressed at low levels in normal ovarian tissue. We pursued this observation by measuring the levels of this protein in blood samples of women with ovarian cancer compared to healthy women, and we found what seems to be a significant difference in the protein level between the two groups. This result means that we may be able to screen women for the presence of ovarian cancer at early stages of the disease when treatment is more effective.

How is your research progressing?KastBlog2
It is progressing well and, so far, seems to validate that Sp17 is indeed a potential biomarker for early-stage ovarian cancer. There are still a lot of samples to be tested!

How will your current research project advance the field of cancer prevention?
When this protein (Sp17) is validated as a biomarker for early stage ovarian cancer, it will lead to research that investigates whether this biomarker can be used for early detection of this disease, possibly even before symptoms appear.

What would have happened to this project if you hadn’t received funding?
It is likely that, without funding, we wouldn’t have pursued this this project or we would’ve pursued it on a much-smaller scale. Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation has considerably sped up the research process, shaving off years to get results.

Learn more about the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Research Grant and Fellowship Program.

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