Dr. Sandra Cascio of Magee-Womens Research Institute is a 2021 recipient of OCRA’s Early Career Investigative Grant. With her project, “EGFL6 as a New Regulator of Myeloid Cell Expansion and Function in HGSOC,” Dr. Cascio seeks to better understand ovarian tumors’ microenvironments and, ultimately, to overcome ovarian cancer resistance to immunotherapy, opening up a new and effective avenue for treatment.
What initially sparked your interest in science?
My interest in science began during my years in high school when I studied cell-cell communications. I was fascinated by the sophisticated and complex mechanisms by which one cell influences the behavior of another and by the fact that wrong signals between cells could cause serious tissue dysfunctions.
What drew you to the field of ovarian cancer research?
Ovarian cancer is highly metastatic with a very low survival rate. As a scientist and human being, I really hope to see this aggressive disease transformed into a curable disease so that ovarian cancer patients will suffer less and live longer. I recently joined an amazing team of researchers and clinicians at the Magee-Womens Research Institute, and I am confident we will make significant advances against ovarian cancer.
Can you explain your research project?
The ovarian tumor microenvironment is composed of a variety of cells, including tumor, stromal and immune cells. Tumor cells recruit immune cells, including macrophages, into the tumors and program them to have pro-tumor behavior. In turn, tumor-infiltrating macrophages can turn off the tumor-killing activities of other immune cell types, named T and NK cells. All these events drive tumor progression, metastasis, and immunotherapy resistance. I am currently focused on understanding the intercellular network that drives resistance to immunotherapy. The goal of my research is to develop new therapeutic strategies that will target immunosuppressive macrophages and allow the cancer-fighting immune cells to eliminate cancer completely.
What motivates you to persist in your research?
I have friends who are cancer survivors and are completely cured. With my work, I hope to see more survivors able to enjoy their life without the fear of cancer recurrence.
What is your hope for the field of ovarian cancer research?
I hope we will better understand why ovarian cancer patients respond poorly to immunotherapy and develop new therapeutic approaches that will improve the efficacy of current immunotherapy.
If you had the opportunity to personally thank someone from the OCRA community who supported your work, what would you say?
Scientists work tirelessly to turn cancer from an impossible disease to a curable and “regular” disease. This work would not be possible without the support of the OCRA community. Thank you!
See more OCRA-funded ovarian cancer immunotherapy research projects.