GO Run Jump-Starts Oncology Research


GO Run Jump-Starts Oncology Research

MOBILE, Ala. (7/30/20) -- Since it began 12 years ago, the GO Run has provided seed money to jump-start scientific research on gynecologic cancers conducted at the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute. Now, bolstered by additional grant funding, some of those projects are starting to bear fruit.

One such project involves a vaccine, now in clinical trials, that may prolong the lives of certain ovarian cancer patients. Another project builds upon findings from an anti-cancer compound tested in chickens, with the hope that it may treat or prevent ovarian cancer in women.

"Because of the GO Run, we’ve really grown our research portfolio,” said Rodney Rocconi, M.D., Elsie Colle Chair of Oncology Research and professor of gynecologic oncology at the Mitchell Cancer Institute.

Rocconi founded the GO Run, a 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run named GO for Gynecologic Oncology, in 2008 to raise awareness about GYN cancers and fuel local research.  More than $700,000 has been raised since its inception.

Rocconi credits the GO Run with helping support biomarker discovery to predict responses to the Vigil vaccine in ovarian cancer patients. This vaccine is derived from a patient’s cancer and then genetically engineered to attack tumor specific antigens on the patient’s own cancer cells, which makes each vaccine effective for only that patient. 

Findings from a clinical trial of 91 ovarian cancer patients, randomized to the Vigil vaccine versus placebo after completion of primary chemotherapy, were so significant that they may affect the standard of care, particularly for patients who do not have BRCA gene mutations.

"Any improvements on extending the cancer-free interval or reducing the chance of recurrence is a tremendous step in the treatment of this disease,” Rocconi said. Now, with the results published in multiple peer-reviewed journals, he wants to develop a test to predict which patients will respond to the vaccine.

Jennifer Scalici, M.D., professor of gynecologic oncology and chief of the gynecologic oncology service, directs the gynecologic oncology research lab at the Mitchell Cancer Institute. Scalici parlayed GO Run proceeds into a U.S. Department of Defense grant to test an anti-cancer compound in hens. She is now exploring whether the new compound can help prevent the changes in the ovary that lead to ovarian cancer.

"The data from the hens is so interesting that several new ideas have been developed, including how our compound works and the origins of ovarian cancer in general,” Scalici said. "We are proposing two new projects directly as a result of our hen study, which we hope may shed some light on aspects of ovarian cancer development that are poorly understood.”

Scalici said she expects the lab’s success to play an important role in a new fellowship being established at USA Health to train gynecologic oncologists.

"Because the GO Run funds support the lab, and our research has been so successful, these funds will play a key role in our ability to train future physician-scientists to take care of women in need and advance their care through research,” she said.

The 13th annual GO Run will be held virtually Sept. 17-20 and is presented by the Catranis Family Charitable Foundation. To register for a virtual race or for more information, visit the GO Run webpage. For questions regarding sponsorships, email Casey Hitson, assistant director of MCI development, at caseyhitson@southalabama.edu.

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Cutline: Jennifer Scalici, M.D., left, professor of gynecologic oncology, and Luciana Madeira da Silva, Ph.D., right, research assistant professor of oncologic sciences at the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute, review lab results with student intern Catherine Lyons in the gynecologic oncology lab at MCI on Friday, July 24, 2020.









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