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Wistar Science Highlights: Ovarian Cancer Research, Melanoma Publication Award, Zika Science in Singapore

Scientists from The Wistar Institute continue to push boundaries in cancer and infectious disease research. A new study demonstrated a possible new treatment approach for a type of ovarian cancer. One of our scientists was recognized with a special award for a paper about melanoma, while a lead researcher went to Singapore to discuss groundbreaking research on a Zika vaccine.

New Approach to Treatment for Difficult-to-Treat Subtype of Ovarian Cancer Identified

The lab of Rugang Zhang, Ph.D., professor and co-program leader in Wistar’s Gene Expression and Regulation Program, has identified a new therapeutic strategy for ovarian clear cell carcinoma, which accounts for approximately 5 to 10 percent of American ovarian cancer cases.

The study focused on a protein called ARID1A, which helps alter the structure of chromatin – the complex of DNA and proteins in which DNA is packaged in our cells – and prevents ovarian cells from becoming cancerous. However, when ARID1A is mutated, it drives development of ovarian tumors that cannot be treated by conventional chemotherapy.

After connecting mutated ARID1A to an enzyme called HDAC6, they were able to show that a drug called rocilinostat, which inhibits the function of HDAC6, was able to increase programmed cell death in mutated ovarian cells and reduction in tumor growth in animal models.

Young Wistar Scientist Wins Award for Best Paper in Journal

Marie Webster, Ph.D., a staff scientist in the lab of Ashani Weeraratna, Ph.D., was recently recognized for her research with the Thomas B. Fitzpatrick Medal. The award is given to the author of the best paper published in the journal Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research in the last three years.

Webster was selected for a paper published in December 2014. The paper demonstrated that Wnt5A, a signaling molecule whose levels are increased in metastatic melanoma, serves as a master regulator of an adaptive stress response in the disease, which may contribute to therapy resistance.

Webster will receive a travel grant to attend the International Pigment Cell Conference in Denver, CO, later this month.

Wistar Scientist Travels to Singapore to Present New Data on Zika Vaccine

Kar Muthumani, Ph.D., assistant professor in Wistar’s Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, recently presented promising new data on a DNA vaccine targeting the Zika virus at the 2017 International Union of Microbiological Societies in Singapore.

This is the first summary presentation of the lab’s novel Zika DNA vaccine outside the U.S. and Europe and highlights the early stages of the vaccine’s development and recent successes. The vaccine was developed by Muthumani, David Weiner, Ph.D., executive vice president and Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center director, and their collaborative industry partners.

While at the conference, Muthumani was also invited to the National University of Singapore Biological Sciences department to speak with students and staff about his work on the synthetic DNA vaccine approach for emerging infectious diseases.