Dr. Sanaz Memarzadeh

Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and

Stem Cell Research Center


Ovarian Cancer

Grant Amount: $456,000

Ovarian cancer accounts for 5 percent of cancer deaths among women, and causes more deaths than any other gynecologic cancer. About 21,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, and more than 14,000 will die of the disease. One reason these cancers are dangerous is that they are detected late. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are often non-specific and can resemble other common ailments. Currently, there is no definitive screening test for ovarian cancer; therefore tumors cannot be detected at an early stage.

After following her work for more than three years, PHASE ONE is excited to fund the ovarian cancer research of Dr. Sanaz Memarzadeh at the UCLA Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. Our two-year grant, totaling $300,000, was augmented by additional $156,000 raised directly from guests at the 2015 Gala and online.

Research suggests that most, if not all, cancers arise from cancer stem cells. Conventional cancer therapies target rapidly dividing tumor cells, but cancer stem cells have tools to escape chemotherapy and radiation. At some point, the cancer stem cells begin to self-renew, creating a new tumor and the cancer begins to grow again.

High grade serous tumors are the most common form of ovarian cancer. Despite being called “ovarian” cancer, recent work suggests that the majority of these tumors have their origins in the fallopian tubes. The standard of treatment for high grade serous ovarian cancer is surgical removal of the tumor followed by chemotherapy. However, most patients with high grade serous ovarian cancer relapse in one year and many succumb to this illness within five years despite a complete initial response to therapy. The clinical behavior of high grade serous ovarian cancer suggests that subsets of these tumor cells have stem cell-like properties and are resistant to existing therapies. These cells comprise a small fraction of the tumor but arethe cancer initiating cells. In order to eradicate serous cancers, we must first find a way to target the serous cancerstem cells. Dr. Memarzadeh and her team have made major progress in isolating this population of serous tumor cells with stem activity (the cancer stem cells). They believe these cellsare responsible for high rates of relapse in ovarian cancers. More importantly, they have identified and are testing ways of eliminating these tumor cells by adding drugs to existing standard chemotherapy. They envision a handful of strategies that can be used to individualize each patient’s care based on tumor analys is in the laboratory. Their proposed treatments may significantly improve survival of patients. With the generous support from PHASE ONE, Dr. Memarzadeh is moving the first of these therapeutic strategies forward into clinical trial for treatment of ovarian cancer.

As a practicing clinician it is Dr. Memarzadeh’s experience caring for patients with ovarian and other gynecological cancers that motivate her to define better, less toxic and more effective treatments to replace or compliment conventional therapies. Historically, ovarian cancer research is woefully underfunded; generous philanthropic resources from supporters like you, enhance Dr. Memarzadeh’s ability to pursue innovative and novel ideas that will greatly impact future treatments of this disease.

For the latest on Dr. Sanaz Memarzadeh’s research, click here