Dr. Alpa Nick is a Fellow in the Department of Gyencologic Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Since 2002, OCRF has funded the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation’s Ann Schreiber Award. Sol Schreiber, Ann’s husband, started OCRF in 1994 to honor Ann and her fight against ovarian cancer.
Dr. Nick was interviewed on June 2, 2009, by OCRF’s Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth Howard.
Elizabeth Howard: Dr. Nick, Tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in ovarian cancer research.
Dr. Alpa Nick: I am a 2nd year fellow in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Texas, M. D. Anderson Cancer. Under the mentorship of Dr. Anil Sood, who is an OCRF grantee, I have been investigating novel therapeutic drug targets for treatment of ovarian cancer. I initially became interested in ovarian cancer research because of the many yet unanswered questions and challenges that face patients and clinicians battling this disease. In particular, I am interested in new methods for biomarker discovery and detection of early stage disease.
EH: What inspires you to do what you do?
AN: I am continually inspired by the patients I have encountered thus far in my training. There are too many women out there losing the battle against this disease, and we need better treatments.
EH: Can you describe your research project, in laymen’s terms?
AN: One of the main outstanding problems we face as clinicians and researchers studying ovarian cancer is that we do not have an adequate screening test for early detection. Because of this, the majority of women are diagnosed with late stage, incurable disease. I am committed to addressing this problem. The current project is a pilot study to determine if we can detect meaningful differences in organic chemicals found in the breath of ovarian cancer patients, compared to patients that do not have ovarian cancer. We are analyzing both the identity and amount of each chemical that we identify.
EH: I know that this kind of research takes time. What are the expected outcomes of your research?
AN: Based on preliminary data, we anticipate that the differences we identify will be useful for ovarian cancer screening just as mammograms and colonoscopy are widely used for breast and colon cancer screening. Ultimately, the goal of this work is to develop a “breathalyzer” that can reliably detect ovarian cancer in its earliest stages.
EH: You are the recipient of the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation’s Ann Schreiber award, which is funded by OCRF. Sol Schreiber, Ann’s husband, started OCRF in 1995 to honor Ann and her battle against ovarian cancer. What impact has receiving this grant had on your work?
AN: This grant has been tremendously important. The funding has enabled me to translate the studies carried out in our laboratory into a simple clinical application that we hope will enable us to diagnose patients in the earliest stages when they have the greatest chance for cure. Without the support of this award the clinical portion of the project would not have been possible.
EH: What do you see as the biggest challenge in ovarian cancer research?
AN: There are two major challenges that we face as clinicians and researchers in ovarian cancer. The first is that we do not have an adequate and reliable method of screening women for ovarian cancer. The second is that with current therapeutic measures we are rarely able to cure recurrent disease. The later challenge is, of course, directly related to the first and so screening is of utmost importance.