DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS

The Impact of the Ovarian Cancer Academy Is Long-Lasting and Far-Reaching

Posted August 31, 2018
Rugang Zhang, Ph.D., The Wistar Institute

Rugang Zhang, Ph.D., The Wistar Institute

Rugang Zhang, Ph.D., The Wistar Institute

Early in his research career, Dr. Rugang Zhang was committed to establishing an independent career in ovarian cancer research with hopes of developing novel therapeutic strategies to fight the devastating disease. To facilitate this, Dr. Zhang became a member of the Ovarian Cancer Research Program’s (OCRP) Ovarian Cancer Academy and received an Ovarian Cancer Academy - Early-Career Investigator (ECI) Award in fiscal year 2009 (FY09). The Academy brings together a group of talented and highly committed ECIs with their mentors and an Academy Dean in a synergistic partnership. The goal of the Academy is to help establish the ECIs as the next generation of successful and highly respected ovarian cancer researchers. The OCRP Ovarian Cancer Academy-ECI Award was instrumental in launching Dr. Zhang’s career in ovarian cancer research. The award was not only a catalyzer of his own independent career development, but also served as an amplifier for training the next generation of dedicated ovarian cancer researchers.

With his FY09 Ovarian Cancer Academy-ECI Award, Dr. Zhang explored the role of cell senescence and canonical Wnt signaling in epithelial ovarian cancer. He identified that loss of Wnt5a contributed to epithelial ovarian cancer development by enabling the cancer cells to overcome senescence. He also demonstrated that a lower level of Wnt5a was a poor prognosis biomarker in epithelial ovarian cancer. These results suggested a mechanism that could be targeted to drive malignant cells to undergo senescence and stop cancer cell growth.

Dr. Benjamin Bittler

Dr. Benjamin Bittler

Following the success of his Ovarian Cancer Academy-ECI Award, Dr. Zhang received subsequent funding from the OCRP that further enabled him to establish an ovarian cancer research career. In addition, the collaborations he established with the other ECIs within the Academy continued to thrive long after his graduation from the Academy. Dr. Zhang was awarded an FY14 Ovarian Cancer Academy Collaborative Award, in which he collaborates with Dr. Panagiotis Konstantinopoulos, a fellow Academy graduate. He was also awarded an FY15 Investigator-Initiated Research Award. Both of these awards will facilitate research into other therapeutic strategies for ovarian cancer. Most recently, Dr. Zhang was awarded an FY17 Clinical Development Award for a phase I clinical trial to test the use of a drug to target cancer stem cells, which contribute to the development of chemo-resistance and reoccurrence of ovarian cancer.

With funding support from the OCRP, Dr. Zhang has published 68 publications, presented at 23 scientific conferences, acquired 12 additional sources of funding for ovarian cancer research, and established one patent. His success represents a full-circle investment for the OCRP. Dr. Zhang began as an OCRP ECI in the Academy, and with OCRP support, progressed to become an established ovarian cancer researcher.

Dr. Katherine Arid

Dr. Katherine Arid

In addition, a number of Dr. Zhang’s former trainees have since launched their own independent careers in ovarian cancer research. Two of Dr. Zhang’s postdoctoral students under his Ovarian Cancer Academy-ECI award, Drs. Katherine Arid and Benjamin Bittler, have gone on to acquire funding from the OCRP as well. Dr. Arid and Dr. Bittler have received OCRP FY17 ECI Pilot Awards to develop therapeutic strategies to target ovarian cancer. Dr. Zhang’s impressive achievements demonstrate the great value of the OCRP Ovarian Cancer Academy.

“I am very grateful for the vision and support of the OCRP Academy Award in my professional development. The impact of the award on ovarian cancer is certainly long-lasting and far-reaching.”

— Dr. Rugang Zhang

Link:

Public and Technical Abstracts: Determine the Role of Canonical Wnt Signaling in Ovarian Tumorigenesis

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Last updated Thursday, August 30, 2018