May 25, 2020 - Monday
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A Winning Partnership between KU Cancer Center and OVERRUN Ovarian Cancer Foundation

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Rebecca Wates, PhD Researcher and
Andrew Godwin, Director, Molecular Oncology

Just ask Jeff Hirst and Rebecca Wates, both PhD researchers at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. Along with Andrew Godwin (Director, Molecular Oncology and Deputy Director, KU Cancer Center), Hirst and Wates have committed their professional lives to developing better therapies for ovarian cancer patients through their work at Godwin’s KU Medical Center lab.

Rebecca Wates, a KC native who returned to the area after completing undergraduate studies at Dillard University and earning a graduate degree at Mizzou, found Godwin’s lab the perfect place to pursue her research interests. “Ovarian cancer is a bit of a misnomer – it’s not really a single disease that looks the same in every patient. Instead, women with ovarian cancer can have tumors that differ greatly from person to person and can have different genetic causes,” Rebecca explains. “My research focus is to identify essential tumor cell machinery, with the idea that targeting that will cause all the tumor cells to die no matter what defect caused the tumor or how different cells within the tumor may be.” After screening over 6,000 chemical compounds, Wates found four compounds that they have chosen for further study. And, according to Wates, in order to improve their chances of eventually finding a new drug, they will be expanding the search into a library of over 100,000 compounds – a huge undertaking recently made possible by a national grant.

Growing up in Independence, Missouri, Jeff Hirst knew in high school that he wanted to pursue cancer research at KUMed. After earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Missouri State University, he made KUMed his top choice. Says Jeff, “The location close to my family and the strong reputation of the KUCC, which is the only NCI-designated cancer center in our region, made it a no brainer for me.” Continues Hirst, “I got involved with ovarian cancer research through working with Andy (Godwin) as my graduate mentor. I was excited to pick projects based on drug development for ovarian cancer, since such limited progress has been made for the frontline treatment.”

Currently, Hirst is working to overcome the chemotherapy resistance that many women face after their initial treatment. By using a 3D model he created, he is able to screen for drugs to overcome clinical resistance, finding that some anti-inflammatory drugs can preferentially target the resistant cells. When combined with paclitaxel (a current frontline therapy for ovarian cancer), the anti-inflammatory drugs improve their overall effectiveness.

Since the OVERRUN Ovarian Cancer 5K/1 Mile Run/Walk began in 2012, the OVERRUN Ovarian Cancer Foundation has been proud to support the work of The University of Kansas Cancer Center and Godwin’s lab, with contributions from the event totaling $180,000. Both Wates and Godwin have participated in the event since its inception, and Hirst has participated the last three years.

This year, both “Godwin Team Runners” and “Godwin Team Walkers” will sport Research on the Run t-shirts, so that OVERRUN participants will be able to identify, meet, and thank the researchers whom the event supports.

Says Wates, “Having the opportunity to participate in OVERRUN and other community events is a great chance to meet the people we work so hard to help.

I’m always inspired by the survivors who participate and their support systems who are right there cheering them on. It is easy to be consumed by the minutia of lab experiments and the vanity of publications and acknowledgement. I think it’s always helpful to keep in mind the reason we do this work, to help women who are fighting for their lives.”

Hirst concurs and adds, “One of the biggest challenges with science these days is obtaining funding to support research. Large grants from the NIH and NCI are extremely competitive and require more and more data each year. Funding from sources like OVERRUN allows researchers to test new ideas and initiate novel projects that might not be initially considered by NIH and NCI review boards until they are more mature.”

Please join Jeff, Rebecca, Andy and the 1,500 other OVERRUN supporters who will participate in this year’s event. We Believe in a Cure!

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