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2012 Ann Schreiber Grant Recipient – Kate Lawrenson

Kate Lawrenson, PhD
University of Southern California
Modeling Stem Cell Origins of Epithelial Ovarian Carcinomas

Project Summary

Epithelial ovarian cancers (EOC) are a complex group of tumors that arise from multiple different precursor tissues, and the most common EOC subtype (high-grade serous) is now thought to originate in both the ovary and the fallopian tube. However, the early stages of cancer development are poorly understood. We propose that normal stem cells, that usually regenerate the epithelia linings of the ovary and fallopian tube, may be cells of origin for EOC. Little is know about normal tissue stem cells in these organs, but we are able to selectively culture these cells in our laboratory. In this study we will isolate and characterize stem cells from normal ovaries and fallopian tubes and compare the molecular profiles to stem cells from ovarian cancers, to identify common markers between the groups. To generate models of early cancer development we will introduce genetic changes into the stem cells, selectively altering genes that are common deregulated in high-grade serous EOCs.

There is currently no screening program for the early detection of EOC, though detecting EOCs earlier could significantly decrease mortality associated with this disease. However, no reliable biomarkers exist for effective detection of EOCs at the earliest, most treatable stages. Therefore, the models developed in this study will be used to develop novel biomarker and/or imaging-based modalities for screening for early-stage HGSOCs.


Kate Lawrenson obtained her BSc and PhD from University College London. After a Postdoctoral position with Dr Fujita at the Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, Dr Lawrenson moved to the University of Southern California to work with Dr Simon Gayther in the Department of Preventive Medicine within the Keck School of Medicine. In 2011 Dr Lawrenson was awarded an AACR Susan G Komen Scholar-in-Training Award, and a Wright Foundation Award. Dr Lawrenson’s research has focused on modeling the early stages of epithelial cancer development and the role of the microenvironment during tumorigenesis, with a particular focus on epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC). Dr Lawrenson is now focusing on the isolation and characterization of normal tissue stem cells in EOC precursor tissues, and asking how these cells interact with the microenvironment, and what is the role of these cell populations in the development of EOC. The overarching theme of Dr Lawrenson’s research is to develop biologically relevant, robust in vitro and in vivo models of EOC genesis, and to use these models to identify novel biomarkers to detect disease at the earliest, most treatable stages, or new therapeutic targets that could be exploited to treat the disease more effectively.

This grant has been made possible in part though a generous donation from Teal There’s a Cure.