Dr. Anne van Harten, of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, is a 2021 recipient of OCRA’s Ann and Sol Schreiber Mentored Investigator Award. With her project, “Targeted MDM2 Degradation as a Novel Treatment for Ovarian Cancer,” Dr. van Harten is designing and testing a new compound to target a protein that is essential to ovarian cancer development, with the aim of finding a new targeted therapy for high-grade serous ovarian cancer patients.
What initially sparked your interest in science?
In high school, I wrote a report focused on how medications work. For this project, I also had the opportunity to synthesize a drug in an organic chemistry laboratory and analyze the purity of it using mass spectrometry. Both of these experiences sparked my interest in the science behind new drugs.
What drew you to the field of ovarian cancer research?
Ovarian cancer is a deadly disease and is often diagnosed at a late stage, which hampers treatment responses in patients. Therefore, I believe that more specific treatments to target the cancer cells would give ovarian cancer patients a better chance of a cure. My hope is that my research on a new type of targeted treatment will lead to clinical trials someday and increase ovarian cancer survival outcomes for patients in the future.
Can you explain your research project?
In all cells in our body, proteins are the workers that carry out important tasks to keep the cell healthy. As cancers develop, they become reliant on specific proteins for their continued survival. We have discovered such a protein that is essential for the survival and growth of ovarian cancer cells, particularly when they have a mutation in a gene that can cause treatment resistance.
For my project, I am researching the effects of targeting this protein with a new compound that we designed and generated. I am testing our compound on ovarian cancer cells to investigate its therapeutic potential. The ultimate goal of my research is to have a new targeted therapy for the treatment of ovarian cancer.
What motivates you to persist in your research?
I find it very exciting to work in research, where new discoveries are made every day that may help cancer patients. We learn more about ovarian cancer daily and that gets us closer to improving treatment options and outcomes for ovarian cancer patients.
What is your hope for the field of ovarian cancer research?
Together, ovarian cancer researchers work to increase understanding of what allows the ovarian cancer cells to live and grow, which reveals their vulnerabilities. This knowledge should lead to the development of targeted drugs that eradicate ovarian cancer cells, thus curing the patients.
If you had the opportunity to personally thank someone from the OCRA community who supported your work, what would you say?
I am very grateful for your contributions to OCRA, which help advance my research on new treatments that have the potential to positively impact the lives of ovarian cancer patients. Due to your generous gift, I have the opportunity to do my part as a cancer researcher in the fight against ovarian cancer, and I hope that all the efforts combined will lead to a day on the horizon where we can effectively treat ovarian cancer for all.
Dr. Anne van Harten’s grant was made possible in part by generous donations from OCRA Community Partners, including Cancer Dancer, the Janice Lopez Ovarian Cancer Foundation and Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer.