2011 Recipient — Mary Zhang, MS, PhD

Mary Zhang, MS, PhD

Understanding Mechanisms that Lead to Resistance to Platinum-based Treatments

Project Summary

Epithelial ovarian cancer has the highest mortality rate among gynecologic cancers. Currently, platinum and taxanes in combination are the first-line chemotherapy for epithelial ovarian cancer patients after surgical debulking. Although platinum-based therapy results in high initial clinical response rate, for advanced stage of ovarian tumors the 5-year survival remains 10 percent. The low survival is primarily due to the fact that both primary and recurrent tumors often develop resistance to platinum. Also, resistance to platinum often leads to resistance to other unrelated therapeutic agents. Therefore, platinum resistance is a daunting challenge faced by physicians in treating ovarian cancer. In her study, Dr. Zhang plans to study the mechanism of resistance to platinum-based treatments. She is focusing on a molecule called HDAC6 that may be responsible. HDAC6 is a histone deacetylase (HDAC), a type molecule that allows tumor growth and promotes resistance to platinum. Drugs are available that counteract HDAC in other cancers. Dr. Zhang’s work will help determine if a drug targeted against HDAC6 might be used to treat ovarian cancer.

Areas of Research:


Xiaohong (Mary) Zhang, MS, PhD is an Assistant Professor at The University of South Florida College of Medicine in the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology. She is a biochemist and interested in laboratory-based translational and preclinical research in the cancer field including ovarian cancer. She received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Beijing Normal University in Beijing, China. She subsequently came to U.S. and received her Master degree in Biochemistry at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in the Department of Molecular Pathology. She then stayed at MD Anderson Cancer Center and pursued her Ph.D. in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. After graduation, she moved to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida as a postdoctoral fellow. Under the mentorship of Dr. Edward Seto, she developed strong interests in hisotne deacetylases (HDACs). Her research interest is now focused on the role of HDACs in human cancer, especially to investigate what causes most ovarian cancers to become resistant to platinum-based chemotherapies – a major obstacle to treatment. With the support of the Liz Tilberis grant, she will identify mechanisms by which HDAC6 confers resistance to chemotherapy and look for HDAC6 inhibitors that may help clinicians restore chemotherapy sensitivity in patients with ovarian cancer. She has received several awards for her research including two New Investigator Awards (Bankhead-Coley and James & Esther King) from Florida Department of Health as well as Marsha Rivkin Scientific Scholar and pilot study awards.