2015 Early Career Investigator Grant Recipient — Sarah Walker, PhD
Ovarian cancer remains a deadly disease for countless women, and therefore, new treatment strategies are needed. To approach this problem, we have focused on identifying the molecular abnormalities in an ovarian cancer cell that underlie its malignant behavior. We have found that three proteins that control gene expression in a cell– STAT3, Myc, and BCL6– are commonly inappropriately active in ovarian cancer. Consequently, these proteins drive the continual expression of genes that promote the growth, survival, and spread of these cells. While often studied on their own, in preliminary studies, we have begun to map out how these proteins interact and cooperate with each other in ovarian cancer. In this application, we propose to define the key molecular interactions between these proteins in ovarian cancer cells, and make use of specific drugs we have developed to target them therapeutically. The goal of this proposal is to better understand how these three proteins work together to promote ovarian cancer, and to identify rational combinations of drugs to form the foundation for more effective and less toxic treatments for women with this disease.
Dr. Sarah Walker is an instructor in Medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School. She received her undergraduate degree in Biology and Bioinformatics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where her work in Biology was recognized with a Founders Award of Excellence and the Roland Walker Award. She then went on to receive her Ph.D. in Cell Biology from Harvard University where she was an Alpert J. Ryan Scholar. As a graduate student, she focused on understanding the molecular interplay of the STAT family of transcription factors on regulating genes important in cancer. She then completed her postdoctoral work with Dr. David Frank at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where her work was recognized by a WICR Scholar travel award from the American Association of Cancer Research. Her work focused on furthering our understanding of STATs in women’s cancers and on identifying and developing inhibitors to target transcription factors. Expanding on her work as a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Walker is currently focusing on understanding the role that a network of transcription factors play in ovarian cancer and designing strategies to target this network. In addition, she is developing tools to better recapitulate ovarian cancer in vitro.