Ovarian cancer is the fifth deadliest cancer among women in the United States. In spite of advances in surgery and drug therapy over the past several decades, cure rates remain very low (~30%). Most women are diagnosed with late-stage ovarian disease and, of these, a majority will die of drug-resistant disease within five years. Thus, treatment strategies that improve the potency and selectivity of current chemotherapy have the potential to make a dramatic impact on patient outcomes for this deadly disease. Recently, our laboratory identified a gene called MK2 that sends and receives signals within cancer cells, preventing them from dying when treated with chemotherapy. When we block MK2, we found that we could improve the ability of the chemotherapy to kill cancer cells by several fold, while leaving normal healthy cells unaffected. However, drugs that are capable of blocking MK2 in cancer cells are currently not available. Our research supported by the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund aims to develop ‘smart’ drug delivery vehicles that are capable of delivering a two-component therapy to cancer cells. The first component will be an MK2 blocking agent, which will increase the sensitivity of the cancer cells to currently used chemotherapy which forms the second component of our ‘smart’ drugs. We will use patient-based mouse avatars to model human disease response, and leverage new advances in the development of nanometer-scale drug delivery technologies that are both biocompatible and highly targeted towards ovarian cancer cells. These studies will not only improve our understanding ovarian cancer sensitivity towards current therapy, but also develop strategies that can make a profound impact on patients with this devastating disease.
- Paula T. Hammond, PhD – Massachusetts Institute of Technology