Supporting Ovarian Cancer Research
The Baystate Health ovarian tissue registry began at the end of 2018 as a collaboration among Drs. Sallie Schneider (Director of the Biospecimen Resource and Molecular Analysis Facility; Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute), Tashanna Myers (Gynecologic Oncology), and Christopher Otis (Anatomic Pathology).
Their goal is to collect samples of ovarian tissue from consenting patients as part of a research registry. The ovarian tissue registry is modeled after the successful Rays of Hope Breast Tissue Registry at Baystate.
The registry is a confidential collection of information, including tissue samples, related to the diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer. Researchers can use the registry to study important questions, like why different patients with the same cancer respond differently to the same treatments.
“In breast cancer, it is often difficult to get tumor tissue because the tumors are usually very small when first detected and the margins are important for diagnosis,” explains Dr. Schneider. “Ovarian cancer is usually found too late, and at this point the tumors are very large.”
Eligibility to participate
Patients who are already undergoing surgery to remove part of or the entire ovary are approached by surgeons in the hospital to see if they’d like to contribute to the ovarian tissue registry. To participate, the patient must be an adult, must be able to give their own consent, and must have a scheduled surgery where an ovary is being removed. Surgeons will send tumor tissue (such as an ovarian mass) to the pathologist who examines the specimen and chooses tumor tissue to submit to the tissue bank.
Working together as a team
Lynn Eaton, Senior Clinical Research Coordinator, ensures the entire procedure runs smoothly from start to finish.
“Although we come from different departments, we all work together as a team,” Eaton says. “It’s a very collaborative process involving the surgeon’s staff assistant, the pre-admission chart room, the surgeon and surgery personnel, PVLSI staff, pathology administrative staff, and the pathologists.”
Dr. Christopher Otis, who oversees the acquiring of the collected tissue, makes sure it is handled appropriately as it is put into the registry. Dr. Esma Ersoy, a pathology resident, is also involved in this process since she has a particular interest in a specific protein (called HER2) found within ovarian tumors.
“Once the tumor cells are collected, the next step is to understand their characteristics.” says Dr. Ersoy. “We ask things like ‘What stage is this tumor in? What kind of targetable proteins (e.g. HER2, a type of breast cancer) are involved in the development of the tumors? Are the cells resistant to chemotherapy?’” Since there are so many different types of cancers and variations of cancer cells, extensive research is necessary to work toward finding effective treatments.
Keeping up with cancer cells
Because cancer cells are different in every case, treatment will be different for every patient. “In the era of precision medicine, we know that cancer cells can be diverse,” explains Dr. Myers.
“Standard chemotherapy will not be sufficient to finding a cure for this disease. Studying individual tissue samples will be key to answering questions about ovarian cancer.” So far, over 30 ovarian tissue samples have been collected.
“As the registry grows, we will see more peaks of abnormalities and averages,” adds Dr. Otis. “We will learn more about the disease and offer/develop new treatments to be delivered to the bedside. This is important translational research.”
Contributing to meaningful research
Many patients who are approached by Dr. Myers and her team are eager and excited to participate in the ovarian tissue bank. “Patients have been selfless and want to help others who might be experiencing the same issues,” explains Dr. Myers. “The tissue we collect is impactful beyond that one single patient. We want to change the course of ovarian cancer treatment and figure out the causes.” The hope is that this research will answer questions about ovarian cancer in the future and why ovarian cells can become cancerous.
“Through this research, we are creating something meaningful for years to come,” concludes Dr. Ersoy. “It’s being part of a bigger picture. With Baystate becoming more of an academic institution, research like this is important for us to grow and strengthen our knowledge."