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Rutgers Cancer Institute Makes Advances in Treatment of Women’s Reproductive Cancers

New Brunswick, NJ, March 27, 2014 —According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 84,000 women each year are diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, and 29,000 die from one of these diseases.  

Physician scientists at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey continue to make great strides in this area, advancing scientific and clinical knowledge to combat cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and other cancers of the reproductive system.

Lorna Rodriguez, MD, PhD, a gynecologic oncologist and director of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey’s precision medicine initiative, gave an oral presentation at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s (SGO) 45th Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer this past week that focuses on recurrent or advanced stage cervical cancer. 

Previous research from the DiPaola laboratory at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey found that a drug primarily used to treat severe acne (13-cis Retinoic Acid) when combined with an anti-viral drug used to treat some forms of cancer and hepatitis (interferon-alpha-2b) made cancer cells more susceptible to paclitaxel — an agent used with moderate success in the treatment of cervical cancer.

Building on these clinical and laboratory findings, Dr. Rodriguez and Cancer Institute colleagues designed and completed a Phase II clinical trial for women with recurrent cervical cancer.  The team found that combining all three of these drugs is effective in the treatment of the disease with minimal toxicity.  

“These results include six patients that had disappearance of their cancer for more than two years, which is remarkable for a disease that when it recurs has no known cure at this time,” notes Rodriguez, who is also a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

A total of 33 patients were enrolled.  Along with the six patients who had a complete response, four patients had a partial response and seven had stable disease, representing 51 percent whose disease did not advance. 

This response rate was comparable to two other trials involving paclitaxel and cisplatin — a drug used in the treatment of ovarian cancer.

“Even though these results are similar to other newer regimens, the impact of side effects was less significant with this treatment, thus allowing patients to continue working and performing daily activities while undergoing therapy,” notes Rodriguez.  “By further exploring drugs we know to have a positive effect on cervical cancer and combining them with other agents that have similar biologic effects, we can identify therapies that are more targeted for this patient population.”

Further examining biologic impacts in the area of endometrial cancer is Cancer Institute gynecologic oncologist Sara S. Isani, MD, who gave a poster presentation at the recent SGO meeting.  Treatment regimens targeting the mTOR protein, part of the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway, typically do not yield an overwhelming response in attacking the disease. 

Dr. Isani and colleagues from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York examined the effectiveness in endometrial cancer cell lines of various agents that block different parts of the P13K pathway when combined with a MEK inhibitor drug to block the Ras/Raf/MAPK pathway, which is another key pathway involved in developing cancer.

Researchers were able to identify several promising agents blocking the PI3K pathway, and the study showed that when these drugs were combined with the MEK inhibitor drug, the effect on suppressing cancer cell growth was even more profound.

Furthermore, the effect could extend to controlling the properties that allow cancer cells to spread outside the uterus.  “By pairing inhibiting agents that target these two related pathways, we can find more optimal therapeutic strategies against endometrial cancer,” notes Isani, who is also an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“Because many of the signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancers mimic everyday ailments, women may not get the help they need until the disease is at an advanced stage,” notes Darlene Gibbon, MD, chief of gynecologic oncology at the Cancer Institute.  “Until there are improvements with detecting these cancers, we need to continue our focus on scientific and technological advances that will better combat the treatment of advanced stage reproductive cancers.  Our team at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey remains committed to that goal.”

About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey (www.cinj.org)  is the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. As part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the Cancer Institute of New Jersey is dedicated to improving the detection, treatment and care of patients with cancer, and to serving as an education resource for cancer prevention. Physician-scientists at the Cancer Institute engage in translational research, transforming their laboratory discoveries into clinical practice, quite literally bringing research to life.  To make a tax-deductible gift to support the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 732-235-8614 or visit www.cinj.org/giving.  Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheCINJ.

The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Network is comprised of hospitals throughout the state and provides the highest quality cancer care and rapid dissemination of important discoveries into the community. Flagship Hospital: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. System Partner: Meridian Health (Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center, Riverview Medical Center, Southern Ocean Medical Center, and Bayshore Community Hospital). Major Clinical Research Affiliate Hospitals: Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center, Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Medical Center, and Cooper University Hospital. Affiliate Hospitals: JFK Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), Shore Medical Center, Somerset Medical Center, The University Hospital and University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro.