With the help of Colleen’s Dream Foundation, a University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix researcher is paving the way to improve the outlook of ovarian cancer through a new class of natural compounds.

Jerome Lacombe, PhD, was awarded a $15,000 grant by Colleen’s Dream Foundation on Behalf of its 2017 Golf Tournament and Evening of Dreams Gala Presenting Sponsor, Valley Toyota Dealers. “The Valley Toyota Dealers are honored to support Dr. Lacombe and Colleen’s Dream, an organization in our own backyard that is working to save the lives of women across the U.S. We’re proud to support their mission to improve ovarian cancer survival rates,” says Rob Ginis, Board Member, Valley Toyota Dealers. 

The grant will be used to further Dr. Lacombe’s exciting ovarian cancer research pertaining to withanolides (a group of naturally occurring compounds) that have recently emerged as a potential anticancer agent in light of identifiable antitumor activity. Dr. Lacombe is a young investigator and a member of the research faculty at the Center of Applied Nanobioscience and Medicine at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine – Phoenix, specializing in the discovery of cancer biomarkers. Ovarian tumors are highly resistant to radiation, creating a need for more effective therapies and treatment approaches.

Ovarian cancer has the highest mortality rate of all gynecologic cancers, as more than 80% of women diagnosed have advanced (stage 3 or 4) disease. The standard, first-line treatment for ovarian cancer consists of surgery combined with chemotherapy. The majority of patients will experience disease recurrence, attributed to chemotherapy drug resistance. Withanolides, extracted from the plant ashwagandha, are used in various countries as a form of treatment for various illnesses. They have proved to be effective as a diuretic, anti-inflammatory, sedative, antitussive or immunomodulatory agent.

Remarkably, various studies from numerous kinds of cancers have shown that these natural products are able to sensitize tumors that are resistant to the current chemotherapy drugs, as well as radiation treatment. This promising competence has not been investigated in ovarian cancer. The team led by Dr. Lacombe proposes to elucidate these therapeutic mechanisms while identifying and testing new withanolide compounds developed by collaborators at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Natural Products Center. 

Nicole Cundiff, CEO and Co-Founder of Colleen’s Dream Foundation, said her mother, Colleen, was treated for ovarian cancer at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson. “We have firsthand knowledge of the university’s strong commitment to staying on the cutting edge of cancer research. A study that delves into the improvement of ovarian cancer treatment is crucial, as the platinum-based drugs that are generally administered to ovarian cancer patients are extremely toxic,” she said. 

Colleen’s Dream was founded in 2012 by Nicole and her husband, Billy Cundiff, a 12-year veteran kicker in the NFL. The organization funds ovarian cancer research with the primary goal of developing an accurate and accessible early detection test. Nicole’s mother, Colleen Drury, the foundation’s inspiration and namesake, served on the Board of Directors until she succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2013. By the end of 2017, Colleen’s Dream is projected to have funded approximately $1,000,000 in grants, supporting more than two dozen ovarian cancer research projects across the nation. 

“Colleen’s Dream is proud to support research in Arizona, made possible by our incredible partnership with Valley Toyota Dealers. We are excited about Dr. Lacombe’s research and hope this grant proves useful in his team’s quest to discover new and more effective ways treat ovarian cancer,” said Billy Cundiff, Board Chair.

“This is a cause that the Valley Toyota Dealers is passionate about, and because so little is known about ovarian cancer in proportion to other women’s health issues, we are committed to helping raise awareness,” says John O’Malley, President of the Valley Toyota Dealers.