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    New Directions in Ovarian Cancer Research at CPMCRI

    July 8, 2014

    New $35,000 grant awarded to CPMCRI scientist to further his research into the diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer

    California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute (CPMCRI) Associate Scientist David De Semir, Ph.D., conducts research to discover and validate genes that drive cancerous growth, and he leads studies on the molecular classification of primary cutaneous melanoma and other solid tumors.

    Dr. De Semir’s research helped reveal that melanoma patients with higher expression of PHIP (pleckstrin homology domain-interacting protein) develop metastasis earlier and have poorer prognosis versus those with lower PHIP expression. The PHIP protein, which is activated in triple-negative melanomas (lacking the most common mutations BRAF, NRAS and PTEN), can then be used in the molecular classification of this subtype of melanoma.

    Based on these findings and with new funding support via a Graduate Research Opportunities grant from CPMCRI, Dr. De Semir will examine the wider role of PHIP in the progression of ovarian cancer. “We hope to uncover its role in promoting ovarian cancer progression and evaluate its use as a potential target for developing new therapies,” said Dr. De Semir.

    “This grant support will substantially boost my career and also facilitate further research into ovarian cancer at CPMCRI, complementing an already strong foundation of research into melanoma, as well as breast cancer and glioblastoma.”

    The new project will involve collaborative efforts with CPMC gynecologic oncologist and surgeon John K. Chan, M.D., who joined CPMC last year and will help lead Sutter Health’s oncology consortium. Dr. Chan’s research established microvessel density as a marker of prognosis and angiogenesis—a vascular phenomenon that underlies ovarian tumor growth.

    “Interestingly, we have recently shown that suppressing the expression of PHIP in human melanoma cells significantly reduces microvessel density using mouse models of tumor angiogenesis. We suspect that targeting PHIP could impact angiogenesis and thus slow or stop ovarian tumor progression as well,” says Dr. De Semir. “Collaborating with Dr. Chan is essential for the collection of human tumor specimens for our research in the lab, and his expertise will guide us throughout the entire project.”

    Research from Spain to San Francisco
    Dr. De Semir received a Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. In 2005 he was drawn to the rich biomedical research and biotechnology community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and completed a one-year postdoctoral training program in cystic fibrosis and gene targeting at CPMCRI under the mentorship of Dr. Dieter C. Gruenert. By mid-2006, he moved to UCSF to study cancer biology, where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in melanoma at the Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center under the mentorship of Dr. Mohammed Kashani-Sabet. Recently promoted to Associate Scientist, Dr. De Semir hopes to eventually start his own lab focused on cancer research at CPMCRI.

    Impact of Ovarian Cancer

    According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 22,240 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year, and over 14,000 succumbed to the illness. A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about one in 71.