Ferrall-Fairbanks selected to receive CTSI KL2 Award

Dr. Meghan C. Ferrall-Fairbanks, assistant professor, has been selected to receive support through the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s (CTSI) KL2 Multidisciplinary Scholars Program. Ferrall-Fairbanks’ KL2 research project seeks to develop a mechanistic understanding of platinum-sensitivity in ovarian cancer and the impacts of the host on that sensitivity.

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecologic cancer, with a five-year survival rate of 49.1%. Firstline treatment is the surgical removal of the tumor and peritoneal lesions followed by platinum-based chemotherapy. However, 80-85% of patients relapse and are treated with additional rounds of chemotherapy or targeted therapies upon relapse.

Current cancer treatment strategies provoke the onset of more aggressive forms of cancer through treatment-resistance relapse.  Adaptive therapy clinical trials use evolutionary game theory to describe cancer growth, which can be used to predict new treatment schedules to delay resistance. This approach has worked in other types of cancer like prostate cancer. Because ovarian cancer tends to affect patients more than once, we believe this disease could benefit from adaptive therapy approaches.

Ferrall-Fairbanks’ central hypothesis is that differential responses in ovarian cancer reflect differences in underlying tumor composition. Platinum-sensitive patients continue to have sensitive cells present in their tumor microenvironment, out-competing the platinum-resistant population and preventing resistant cells from becoming the dominant phenotype and patients becoming resistant to platinum-based chemotherapeutics.

This research will generate computational models integrating data from clinical, molecular, and cellular scales to predict strategies for controlling ovarian cancer growth based on differences in tumor ecology and platinum-resistant populations. Her team will achieve this goal by (1) a retrospective study of the association of co-morbidities with platinum-sensitivity from patient records and (2) assessing the effects of different host environments by isolating the supporting stroma cells in ovarian cancer patient ascites fluid for co-culture with previously established platinum-sensitive and platinum-resistant ovarian cancer cells.

During her time as a KL2 Scholar, Ferrall-Fairbanks will work with a multidisciplinary mentoring team, including Dr. Hugh Fan, Professor, department of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Dr. Merry Jennifer Markham, Associate Director for Medical Affairs at the UF Health Cancer Center, Professor and Division Chief of the UF division of Hematology and Oncology, and Dr. Shelley Tworoger, Associate Center Director of Population Science and Senior Member of Cancer Epidemiology at Moffitt Cancer Center.

The CTSI KL2 Multidisciplinary Scholars Program is a research training and funding opportunity for junior faculty at UF to foster clinical and translational research careers. Didactic coursework, mentored research, and multidisciplinary teamwork is offered to develop the skills necessary to build a well-funded collaborative research career.