Amrita Salvi, PhD | Meet a Scientist

Dr. Amrita Salvi in research lab wearing lab coat
Dr. Amrita Salvi

Dr. Amrita Salvi, of University of Illinois at Chicago, is a 2022 recipient of OCRA’s Mentored Investigator Grant. With her project, “Investigating the Mechanism of Action of PHY34 in HGSOC,” Dr. Salvi is exploring the potential of a synthetic molecule called PHY34, which has been shown to reduce ovarian tumor growth in mice models, for enhancing patients’ response to existing chemotherapies.

OCRA-funded scientists are driving ovarian cancer research forward, making discoveries that are bringing us closer to a cure. Make your year-end gift today.

What initially sparked your interest in science?

For as long as I remember, I have had an innate sense of curiosity about the life sciences, which led me to pursue graduate degrees in biotechnology. Working in the lab and learning new techniques was the most exciting part of my undergraduate and graduate studies. What started off as a mere curiosity turned into a profound interest! The realization that I can work on novel, unexplored ideas every day and improve healthcare has piqued and sustained my interest in science.

What drew you to the field of ovarian cancer research?

To be honest, I did not start out with a career in ovarian cancer. I was interested in how cancer cells signal or “communicate” which led to a PhD in cancer cell biology. I am passionate about women’s health — specifically, gynecological cancers — and decided to pursue my postdoctoral research in this field. Ovarian cancer has a low survival rate, is highly metastatic, and the most lethal gynecologic malignancy which makes this work particularly meaningful to me.

Can you explain your research project?

Despite tremendous advances in terms of new therapies, most ovarian cancer patients develop resistance to therapies and succumb to the disease. Natural products and their derivatives have enormous potential as anticancer agents due to their structural diversities and novel modes of action.

In my project, I am testing PHY34 as a potential anticancer drug. It is a synthetic small molecule inspired by a natural product derived from the Phyllanthus species. PHY34 caused toxicity in ovarian cancer cells and reduced tumor growth in mice models of ovarian cancer. As the next step, an important goal of my research is to determine the mechanism of action of PHY34 in ovarian cancer cells and to test if PHY34 can enhance the therapeutic effect of existing chemotherapies. Additionally, I am interested in studying the ovarian microenvironment and understanding the link between ovulation and ovarian cancer.

What motivates you to persist in your research?

A lot of things! To me, the most fascinating thing about research is that you might be the first person to make a discovery and find answers to long-standing questions. The knowledge that your research can potentially lead to new therapies and improve health outcomes is a huge motivation. I am also inspired by patients and survivors who generously donate research specimens and their time to increase awareness about the disease.

What is your hope for the field of ovarian cancer research?

I am optimistic that with promising advances in ovarian cancer research, the overall survival will be successfully prolonged and, more importantly, the survivors will be able to enjoy a better quality of life.

Dr. Amrita Salvi walking outdoors in the fall

If you had the opportunity to personally thank someone from the OCRA community who supported your work, what would you say?

Research takes tremendous collaborative efforts and so I would like to thank everyone from the OCRA community: patients, researchers, volunteers and administrators for their generosity and tireless contributions. A special thanks goes to my mentor Dr. Joanna Burdette and my lab members for their constant support and scientific acumen.

See more OCRA-funded research projects focused on drug resistance.

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