Like all cancers, ovarian cancer is a genetic disease, which develops because of alterations in the genes that normally function to control cell division and tissue growth. This gene disruption occurs as the ovarian lining repairs itself following ovulation during each menstrual cycle. Despite intensive research efforts to date, study of individual genes has failed to fully elucidate the precise mechanisms that lead to ovarian cancer development. The lack of progress is probably because cancer results from disruption of thousands of different genes within discrete pathways and networks, rather than in a handful of single genes.
Recently, microarray technology has enabled scientists to analyze up to 30,000 genes in a single sample. Dr. Lancaster aims to use microarrays to identify the “genetic signatures” of disrupted gene pathways that lead to loss of normal cell growth control and ovarian cancer development. He will study ovarian cancers from women with high and low lifetime numbers of ovulatory (menstrual) cycle, as well as cells which carry known genetic alterations, in an effort to identify the “genetic signatures” of discrete gene networks that have been disrupted in the process of ovarian epithelial repair following ovulation. Characterization of these disrupted gene networks will reveal opportunities for the development of novel medications for treatment and prolongation of survival from ovarian cancer