Delaware Ovarian Cancer Foundation pledges $100,000 to support research at Christiana Care

The Delaware Ovarian Cancer Foundation (DOCF) has made a $100,000 gift to Christiana Care Health System to support ovarian cancer tissue research. The gift will enable the health system’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute to advance its translational research program in ovarian cancer, the first such program in the state.

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer ranks fifth among all cancer deaths for women and is the leading cause of death among gynecologic cancers. In 2016, more than 22,000 women will be newly diagnosed with the disease, and 14,000 women will die from it. Notoriously difficult to detect in its early stages, ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed after it has advanced, when mortality rates are much higher.

For Dorianne Short, these facts and figures are personal. An ovarian cancer survivor, Short now uses her experience to help others as founder and president of the nonprofit DOCF.

“Our mission is threefold — to raise awareness about the disease, to provide support for women affected by it and to fund promising research,” Short said. “We have always hoped to find the right Graham Cancer Center research project to support. This new program is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for.”

The Graham Cancer Center has long offered ovarian cancer clinical trials and now will add a translational research program focused on ovarian cancer.

Mark Eliot Borowsky, M.D.
Mark Eliot Borowsky, M.D.

“DOCF’s generous gift will enable us to jump-start the program by creating a biorepository of diverse tissue samples for basic laboratory — ‘bench’ — research,” said Mark E. Borowsky, M.D., director, division of gynecologic oncology at the Graham Cancer Center. “In time, what we learn at the bench can translate into new therapies that we’ll bring directly to the patient’s bedside.”

Over the next two years, Dr. Borowksy’s team will build this bank of ovarian tissues and serums collected from Christiana Care patients.

“The point of having a biorepository is to move toward personalized medicine and targeted therapy for ovarian cancers,” said Stephanie Jean, M.D., director of gynecologic oncology research at the Graham Cancer Center. “We know that certain types of cancers respond differently to different treatments. Having a collection of ovarian tissues will allow us to conduct tumor molecular profiling and DNA sequencing. When we can identify and understand different mutations, the hope is that ultimately one day in the future, we’ll be able to target treatments to these specific defects. But first we need the tissues to study.”

Christiana Care also will hire a researcher to oversee the process of procuring and analyzing tissue samples and creating a database of clinical information — such as surgical and chemotherapy responses and cancer recurrence times — from women receiving treatment.

“The Graham Cancer Center is already deeply engaged in research in breast cancer, colorectal cancer, tissue engineering, gene editing, drug development and radiation oncology at our Center for Translational Cancer Research. Now, with this generous support from DOCF, we will expand this work in ovarian cancer,” said Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director of the Graham Cancer Center. “Our partnership with DOCF illustrates how philanthropy can drive scientific inquiry and underscores the health system’s promise to serve as expert, caring partners in our community’s health.”

The Center for Translational Cancer Research is a collaboration among Christiana Care, University of Delaware, Nemours/A.I. du Pont Hospital for Children, Rice University/BioScience Research Collaborative, the Delaware Biotechnology Institute and The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia.

The Graham Cancer Center ovarian tissue project builds on recent immunotherapy research, conducted with research partners at Wistar, that is exploring how to stimulate the body’s own immune system to fight ovarian cancer. Dr. Jean and Dr. Borowsky and their division of gynecologic oncology colleague Mark Cadungog, M.D., director of robotic surgery, in collaboration with Wistar’s Jose Garcia, Ph.D., have demonstrated that inflammation, anti-tumor immunity and the clinical outcome of cancer patients are influenced by a common genetic difference in the TLR5 gene.

“Women across the state turn to the Graham Cancer Center for its excellent care and compassionate experts,” said Short. “So DOCF is excited to help Christiana Care with ovarian cancer research that will someday lead to more effective screenings and treatments, which are so desperately needed.”