Notre Dame Hosts Ovarian Cancer Workshop

The Midwest’s best cancer researchers unite at the Harper Cancer Research Center for the inaugural Indiana-Illinois End Epithelial Ovarian Cancer Coalition Workshop.

By Michael Rodio | Sept. 3, 2013

Epithelial ovarian cancer is a grim diagnosis. Because more than 75 percent of women with ovarian cancer have metastatic disease when they are diagnosed, survival rates have not improved for three decades. And unlike breast cancer or prostate cancer, ovarian cancer is not widely studied: Researchers have only recently started to understand how it works on the molecular level, and its origin site in the body is still a mystery.

“The Midwest has a tremendous concentration of basic and clinical ovarian cancer researchers, so we wanted to provide an opportunity to gather here at Harper to discuss our individual strengths and resources, with the goal of establishing new collaborations that will ultimately help women with ovarian cancer” said Sharon Stack, the Ann F. Dunne and Elizabeth Riley Director of the Harper Cancer Research Institute and professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Recognizing this collection of talent, Dr. Stack sought to get the best minds in ovarian cancer research under one roof.

The result was the inaugural Indiana-Illinois End Epithelial Ovarian Cancer Coalition Workshop (IIEEOCC), which brought nearly 40 leading cancer researchers to the Harper Cancer Research Institute on June 10 and 11, 2012.

In addition to Harper faculty, participants visited from eight different Midwestern institutions: the Indiana University School of Medicine campuses in Indianapolis and South Bend, Indiana University-Bloomington, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois campuses in Chicago and Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, and Chicago’s Rush University.

The workshop was co-sponsored by Indiana University’s Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center and the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, the University of Notre Dame Office of Research, and the Harper Cancer Research Institute.

One point of discussion at the workshop was the use of egg-laying hens as research subjects instead of mice. The newer hen model has gained traction because ovarian cancer naturally occurs in hens and behaves much more similarly to humans than comparative mice models. Hens also constantly ovulate. This makes hens a far better test subject for the “incessant ovulation hypothesis,” which argues that repeated ovulation without induced rest periods contributes to ovarian cancer development.

Drawing from their collective research and discussion, eight workshop participants (plus Dr. Paul Haluska Jr. of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.,) published a paper in Oncogene, a weekly research journal at the forefront of modern oncogene research. Their paper, entitled “Epithelial ovarian cancer experimental models,” formalizes their discussion of progress in those different research models.

The institutional partners are currently planning a second IIEEOCC Workshop in 2014 to continue sharing research to fight ovarian cancer.