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Young Scientist

Meet Our Scientists

HERA is committed to funding annual “Outside-The-Box” research grants. By supporting promising M.D’s, Ph.D’s, and post-Docs with innovative ideas, HERA seeks to both nurture the new approaches, and retain the talented scientists choosing to make a career of fighting ovarian cancer.

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SUKH Makhnoon, PHD, MS

Recipient of the Denise Zackman grant, she is a postdoctoral fellow in the Cancer Prevention Research Training Program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Makhnoon's focus is on genetic testing of ovarian cancer. Her project aims to alleviate disparities involving uncertain genetic results in diverse patient populations at multiple hospitals and health systems across the US. Uncertain genetic results are detected at disproportionately higher rates in tests performed in ethnic minorities. Another goal of Dr. Makhnoon's is to improve communications between health care providers (gynecologic oncologists and genetic counselors) and patients of ethnic minorities to reduce these disparities. Her findings will contribute to the much-needed practice guidelines around these issues.

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WonJae Lee, PHD

Recipient of the Susan von Salis grant, the ultimate goal of Dr. Lee’s postdoctoral fellowship at the MD Anderson Cancer Center is to discover more effective therapies for ovarian cancer. Dr. Lee’s research focuses on identifying why this deadly cancer preferentially spreads to the omentum, a fat tissue connected to the stomach. Dr. Lee and colleagues recently discovered that inflammatory cells acting as first responders to infection and cancer mobilize into the omentum prior to metastasis. Using this information, he will study and evaluate whether known anti-inflammatory drugs could be repurposed for stopping metastasis to the omentum. Dr. Lee’s work could potentially accelerate the development of new ovarian cancer therapies in a timely and cost‐effective manner.

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Lyndsey Crump, PHD

A post-doctoral fellow at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is the recipient of our most recent grant for her work targeting TDO2/KYN-mediated activation of an immune-suppressive tumor microenvironment in ovarian cancer. The ability of ovarian cancer cells to avoid detection by a woman’s natural immune system significantly increases the morbidity of the disease, and recent immune-based therapeutic options have proven to be ineffective against ovarian tumors. She found that inflammation (an immune response) causes ovarian cancer cells to alter their metabolism, suppressing the body’s ability to recognize and fight the cancer. A specific protein found in the tumor cells, Tryptophan 2,3-Dioxygenase (TDO2,) increases the abundance of an oncometabolite, a metabolic byproduct that suppresses the effectiveness of the immune response. By using newly developed drugs that interfere with the activity of this particular enzyme, she hopes to improve the immune system function to recognize and destroy tumor cells. This work will determine which immune cells are affected by TDO2 inhibition, and how they can be re-programmed to attack ovarian cancer cells.

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