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2011 Program Project Development Grant Recipient – Santo Nicosia

Santo Nicosia, MD
University South Florida
Ovarian Cancer: A Theme Based Approach Toward Identification of Novel Diagnostic and Therapeutic Targets

Project Summary

The goal of this project is to characterize the genetic and molecular mechanisms that regulate epithelial ovarian cancer growth and progression and to identify biological molecules that, by modulating such processes, may have diagnostic and therapeutic significance. The project is three-pronged: One area will explore whether women who have the BRCA1 mutation, which is linked to hereditary ovarian cancer, may have early molecular signatures of the disease that could be used as markers for women genetically at risk for epithelial ovarian cancer. The second investigation will study if Vitamin D has potential therapeutically. The researchers will determine if the vitamin suppresses the motility and invasiveness of epithelial ovarian cancer by inhibiting inflammatory cytokines, molecules that induce inflammation, and metalloproteinases, important enzymes in the cell. The third will study whether high-grade epithelial ovarian cancer cells have increased expression and urinary excretion of HMGA2, a protein overexpressed in high-grade serous epithelial carcinoma and precursor lesions. If so, HMGA2 in urine might be a way to detect malignancy in a non-invasive fashion. The results of the three research areas should lead to a better understanding of epithelial ovarian cancer pathobiology and pave the way for targeted prognostic, diagnostic and therapeutic intervention in the most lethal gynecologic malignancy today.


Santo V. Nicosia, M.D. is Chairman of the USF Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, Member of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center’ s Department of Oncological Sciences and Experimental Therapeutics Program, and Medical Director of the USF Health Diagnostic Pathology Laboratory. Dr. Nicosia is a board-certified anatomic pathologist and cytopathologist with over 35 years of experience in a variety of morphological methods, including 12 years as the Director of the Electron Microscopy Core Facility of a NIH funded Program Project in Reproductive Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and over 10 years as Scientific Director of the Histology/Immunocytochemistry facilities at the Comprehensive Moffitt Cancer Center. In 2001, he successfully coordinated a Department of Defense-sponsored Program Project on “Cell Growth and Survival in Ovarian Epithelial Cancer”. He is the recipient of over 10 million dollars as Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator of NIH/NCI, DOD and VA Merit Grants. He continues to serve as member of NCI/NIH Review Panels for SPORE and PO1 (one as chair).

In 2007, Dr. Nicosia was awarded the University Distinguished Professorship from the University of South Florida for contribution to research and education as well as academic and clinical service. He has been keynote or memorial speaker at meetings of national and international societies including the Association of Clinical Scientists the Italian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology. For the past several years, Dr. Nicosia has been listed in Consumer Research Council’ s American Top Physicians and Southeast America Best Doctors.

Dr. Nicosia’s basic research activity focuses on the biology of ovarian epithelial cancer and his clinical research investigates the application and development of cytological and ancillary techniques to diagnose and prognosticate cancer. Current research is based on the translation of basic studies of tumor angiogenesis to the validation of two urinary biomarkers, angiostatin and HMGA2 in cohorts of woman at risk for, or with, epithelial ovarian cancer.