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Friday, May 26, 2017

Alumni

Alumna discovers possible new treatment for ovarian cancer


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As a postdoctoral fellow at MD Anderson Cancer Center, UH alumna Pinar Kanlikilicer was part of a team that made a discovery in ovarian cancer research. | Courtesy of Pinar Kanlikilicer

On average, only 46 percent of women with ovarian cancer will survive five years after being diagnosed, but an alumna’s recent discovery might change that.

As part of her post-doctoral fellowship at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, researcher Pinar Kanlikilicer, along with a team, may have discovered a new route to treat the deadly condition. They discovered that a micro-ribonucleic acid that’s found within ovarian cancer cells functions as a tumor suppressor.

The discovery is published in the Journal of Cancer Research.

The Cougar sat down with Kanlikilicer, who earned a doctorate in biomedical engineering from UH in 2013, to learn more about her research.

The Cougar: How did you discover the existence of tumor suppressors found in ovarian cancer cells?

Pinar Kanlikilicer: After graduating from the University of Houston, I started my post-doctoral fellowship at MD Anderson under Dr. (Gabriel) Lopez-Berestein’s supervision. It was one of the projects that I started working on two years ago. We were profiling microRNA and ovarian cancer exosomes to find out the role of microRNA in ovarian cancer exosomes. Exosomes are small vesicles released from every cell, even cancer cells, T-cells, etc. We believed that they had a function and a role in the microenvironment. In the past, they believed that cells used those vesicles to release the trash of the cell. This is why we did a microRNA profiling of those exosomes, to find out which microRNAs are released to the microenvironment.

When we did the profiling, we found out that out of six different ovarian cancer cells, one single microRNA was common in all of them.  After that, we did a lot of research and discovered its role as a tumor suppresser.

TC: In what way can this discovery combat the disease?

PK: miR-6126 can be used as a therapeutic drug by using the mimic of the role of microRNA as a tumor suppressor. With it, we can inhibit tumor growth, cancer metastasis, etc.

TC: What is the next step after this discovery? Will you be doing any additional research?

PK: We would like to carry this microRNA research into the clinic, but also search for additional tumor suppressor candidates besides microRNA.

TC: How were you able to conduct your research?

PK: For our experiment, we bought a drug that mimics microRNA. It is already commercially available for individual experiment, so ultimately the purpose is to use this mimic as a therapeutic drug in combination with chemotherapy.

TC: How did it feel to have your discovery published in the Journal of Cancer Research?

PK: I feel very good about it because since the day I started my post-doctoral fellowship my goal was to publish a good quality manuscript in good journals over cancer research.  I feel good, and my goal remains the same, to publish good manuscripts in high-impact journals.

TC: Did you study ovarian cancer for a specific reason or just for your post-doctoral work?

PK: I started studying ovarian cancer in Dr. Lopez-Berestein’s lab. I didn’t have a special reason to work in ovarian cancer, but in the lab we were working on ovarian cancer because it is usually diagnosed at a very late stage, so the survival rate is very low. That’s why it was such an important research area, so that people can use therapeutics or biomarkers to detect the disease in its earlier stages and prolong the survival rate of patients.

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