March 24, 2020

Teaming up to decode DNA damage repair

Ovarian and pancreatic cancer researchers join forces to debunk which treatments work for which patients

Ovarian and pancreatic cancer are some of the most challenging cancers to treat but their common characteristics have pointed to new treatments for certain subsets of patients. Drs. Stephanie Lheureux and Grainne O’Kane have teamed up to find out which patients can benefit from these new therapies.

Over the next year, with the support of an OICR Translational Research Initiative (TRI) Collaboration Award, Lheureux and O’Kane will be taking a deeper look into patient tumour samples that have a specific DNA damage repair deficiency, called homologous recombination deficiency (HRD). These tumours are thought to be sensitive – meaning, they can be eliminated – with a certain class of drugs called PARP inhibitors, but it is difficult to predict in the clinic whether a patients tumour has HRD or not. Further, it is difficult to determine whether a patient will benefit from using PARP inhibitors.

Lheureux, who is a medical oncologist specializing in ovarian cancers, and O’Kane, who is a medical oncologist specializing in pancreatic cancers, have set out to perform whole-genome analyses on patients with HRD to find a better way to identify which patients may respond to PARP inhibitors. Both researchers are excited to tap into each other’s expertise.

“Dr. Lheureux cares for many patients facing these challenges,” says O’Kane. “She has deep clinical expertise in this area.”

“Dr. O’Kane and her closest collaborators have excellent expertise in whole genome sequencing and bioinformatics,” says Lheureux. “We’re eager to work together.”

Their analyses may help them understand the biological mechanisms driving HRD and how HRD tumours become resistant to treatment. Their findings may also extend beyond ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

“We want to define the biological response to PARP inhibitors and the mechanism of resistance so that we can help these patients make the best treatment decisions for their specific disease,” says O’Kane.

“We’re motivated to redefine HRD and understand it on a deeper level to help us overcome resistance to treatment and extend the lives of those with these cancers,” says Lheureux.

Lheureux and O’Kane’s collaboration is supported by OICR’s TRI Collaboration Award, a pilot funding stream to support the training of young investigators and encourage collaboration amongst OICR’s TRI teams.

Learn more about OICR’s Pancreatic Cancer TRI, Ovarian Cancer TRI or read about the latest TRI News.

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