2012 Recipient — Kate Lawrenson, PhD

Dr. Kate Lawrenson

Kate Lawrenson, PhD

Modeling Stem Cell Origins of Epithelial Ovarian Carcinomas

Project Summary

Epithelial ovarian cancers (EOC) are a complex group of tumors that arise from multiple different precursor tissues, and the most common EOC subtype (high-grade serous) is now thought to originate in both the ovary and the fallopian tube. However, the early stages of cancer development are poorly understood. We propose that normal stem cells, that usually regenerate the epithelia linings of the ovary and fallopian tube, may be cells of origin for EOC. Little is know about normal tissue stem cells in these organs, but we are able to selectively culture these cells in our laboratory. In this study we will isolate and characterize stem cells from normal ovaries and fallopian tubes and compare the molecular profiles to stem cells from ovarian cancers, to identify common markers between the groups. To generate models of early cancer development we will introduce genetic changes into the stem cells, selectively altering genes that are common deregulated in high-grade serous EOCs.

There is currently no screening program for the early detection of EOC, though detecting EOCs earlier could significantly decrease mortality associated with this disease. However, no reliable biomarkers exist for effective detection of EOCs at the earliest, most treatable stages. Therefore, the models developed in this study will be used to develop novel biomarker and/or imaging-based modalities for screening for early-stage HGSOCs.

This grant has been made possible in part though a generous donation from Teal There’s a Cure.


Dr. Lawrenson received both her bachelors degree with first-class honours and Ph.D. from University College London before relocating to Los Angeles to perform postdoctoral research at the University of Southern California. Dr. Lawrenson is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Women’s Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The Lawrenson lab has recently developed a novel tool – the Cancer Core Transcription factor Specificity (CaCTS) algorithm – to identify putative lineage-specific transcription factors in ovarian cancer. We are now characterizing how these factors drive the deregulation of ovarian cancer transcriptomes, with a particular focus on cancer-associated inherited and acquired genetic variants in the noncoding genome. Dr. Lawrenson’s research has been supported by an Ann and Sol Schreiber Mentored Investigator Award from the OCRA, a Cancer Free Generation Research Grant from the Tower Foundation, and a K99/R00 award from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Lawrenson is part of the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium (OCAC) and is an academic editor at PeerJ.