2014 Sean Patrick Recipients
2014 Sean Patrick Recipients

2014 Recipients of the Sean Patrick Multidisciplinary Collaborative Grant

HERA proudly awards the 2014 Sean Patrick Multidisciplinary Collaborative Grant to Dr. Hu working in Dr. Anil Sood’s lab under his direct supervision and Dr. Pratip Bhattacharya from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.  Their exciting research, “Metabolic Imaging of N-acetylaspartate Pathway in Ovarian Cancer,” will examine metabolic changes in ovarian cancer tissue.  Following is a Q & A describing their collaborative project.

Anil Sood Photo

Q:  Dr. Sood is an MD, a leading cancer biologist, and gynecologic oncologist. Dr. Bhattacharya is a PhD and an expert spin physicist. Both are at MD Anderson Cancer Center. How did you meet each other and decide to work together? What does a spin physicist do?

One of the best things at MD Anderson is the opportunity to work with investigators from different disciplines. We were able to connect and work together due to mutual research interests related to metabolic changes in ovarian cancer. We communicate on a regular basis and have joint lab meetings periodically as well. “Spin” or “nuclear spin” or “intrinsic spin” is the quantum version of angular momentum. A spin physicist is an expert in topics related to spin-phenomena in particles and magnetic field. As a spin physicist, Dr. Bhattacharya will perform Magnetic Resonance (MR) based metabolic studies on the patient ovarian cancer samples and metabolic imaging with hyperpolarization in ovarian cancer models. By employing hyperpolarization techniques, the sensitivity of conventional MRI scanners can be increased over 10,000 folds.

Q:  What do you hope to learn from your HERA-funded study?

We hope to learn about key metabolic differences in ovarian cancer and also to develop new imaging methods based on this knowledge which can be applied to patients both for early detection and early follow up of the treatment to determine its efficacy.

Pratip Bhattacharya PhotoQ:  Why is this study is considered “high risk” and “high reward”?  What are the best things that could be gained from this research?

Given that we will be developing techniques that do not currently exist, we feel that the research represents a certain amount of risk; however, given the enormous implications for imaging and therapy, this research also holds substantial potential for reward. The direct visualization of a key metabolic pathway in ovarian cancer within the 2-3 minute time window of hyperpolarization is a “high risk” proposal as the biochemistry, spin physics and imaging process has to be aligned perfectly to enable this modality to be successfully applied in patients. Early-stage ovarian cancer goes unnoticed due to the ambiguity of preliminary symptoms and the lack of an effective diagnostic modality. The proposal seeks to image a key metabolic pathway in ovarian cancer in real-time that will enable early detection and aid in risk stratification, active surveillance and monitoring treatment efficacy. Furthermore this metabolic imaging platform can be extended to other cancers.

Q:  What are the general known differences between the metabolism of healthy ovary tissue and ovarian cancer tissue? Is the metabolism affected by diet?

It is known that ovarian cancers can exploit aerobic glycolysis, similar to other cancers.  However, we have only recently discovered the dominant metabolites in the ovarian cancer microenvironment.  Many of these changes are hard-wired into the cancer cells and may only partially be affected by diet.

Q:  Why are neuron-specific molecules found in ovarian cancer?

This is a great question – we are working hard to figure this out.

Q:  We often hear about “biomarkers” for cancer. What exactly are these markers and how will they help ovarian cancer patients?

Biomarkers can have many implications. We are looking for those biomarkers that can predict certain outcomes or can predict response to therapy. Biomarkers can also be useful for cancer detection.

Q:  Do you think we are close to a cure for ovarian cancer?

This is what we all aim for. Although we are not there yet, we will work very hard to move closer to improving outcomes of women with ovarian cancer and hopefully achieving cures. Furthermore, an effective real-time metabolic imaging tool may even enable screening of the “at risk” population and facilitate early detection when the treatment can be most effective.

Click here to read about the 2011 Sean Patrick Multidisciplinary Collaborative Grant recipients.

Click here to read about the 2012 Sean Patrick Multidisciplinary Collaborative Grant recipients.

Click here to read about the 2013 Sean Patrick Multidisciplinary Collaborative Grant recipients.

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