2015 Recipient — Sarah Adams, MD

Dr. Sarah Adams headshot

Sarah Adams, MD

A Combination Therapy for Hereditary Ovarian Cancer

Project Summary

Women with ovarian cancers that result from an inherited mutation in the BRCA gene show excellent response to a drug called a PARP inhibitor. The drug specifically kills cancer cells but spares normal cells because it targets a vulnerability caused by the gene mutation. Women with hereditary ovarian cancer also have immune cells that are more able to attack the tumor, improving their survival compared to women with non-hereditary disease. Women with inherited ovarian cancer, therefore, might benefit from treatments that enhance immune response to cancer cells. In her study, Dr. Adams will combine a PARP inhibitor and a drug that increases immune cells’ ability to kill tumor cells, called anti-CTLA4 antibody, with the expectation that both should have a powerful therapeutic effect. Because women with non-hereditary ovarian cancers also develop defects in BRCA function, results of this study may also be applicable to non-hereditary ovarian cancer patients, too.


Dr. Sarah Adams joined the faculty of the University of New Mexico Cancer Center in 2102, where she is an Assistant Professor, and the Victor and Ruby Hansen Surface Professor in Ovarian Cancer Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Prior to her recruitment to the University of New Mexico, she spent several years at the University of Pennsylvania. Her undergraduate degree is from Harvard University, and she completed medical school and a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago. In addition to being a skilled physician, Dr. Adams is also an accomplished researcher. She is a 2011 recipient of OCRF’s prestigious Liz Tilberis Award. In addition to OCRF, her work has been supported by grants from the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Sandy Rollman Foundation, the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, the Ovarian Cancer SPORE through the Fox Chase Cancer Center, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology with a Young Investigator’s Award.

Dr. Adams’ overarching research interest is the investigation of the immune response to ovarian cancer, and the interaction of this response with immunomodulatory effects of chemotherapeutic regimens used for treatment. Her current research is focused on exploiting the specific vulnerability of hereditary ovarian cancers to immune attack to develop targeted combinatorial therapeutic protocols for women with tumors arising as a result of BRCA gene mutations. Based on evidence that many sporadic tumors lose BRCA function, she expects that the results from this work may be used to improve the treatment of a large proportion of women with ovarian cancer.