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for Barnes-Jewish Hospital

Endometrial Cancer Research Support Pays Off in Significant Grant

May 9, 2010

Success really does bring more success. For 15 years, David Mutch, MD, a Washington University gynecologic oncologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, and Paul Goodfellow*, PhD, a Washington University geneticist, have collaborated on endometrial and ovarian cancer research. The Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation helped to advance their fruitful partnership, first through ongoing support from an endowment gift made by the late Dorothy J. Poetting, and most recently through a grant from the Foundation’s Michael and Carol Staenberg Gynecologic Oncology Research Fund. 


Now this team’s research success has led to a significant three-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).


For the first time, the NCI has awarded a prestigious Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant to researchers at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. The grant funds research into the causes of endometrial cancer as well as strategies to prevent the disease and development of new treatments.


“A SPORE grant recognizes a specialized program of research excellence,” Dr. Mutch says. “I truly appreciate the support of people like the Staenberg family and Mrs. Poetting, who laid the foundation so we could eventually receive a SPORE grant for our work in endometrial cancer.”


The Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation and Washington University School of Medicine are each making  $750,000 contributions to meet the required institutional match for a SPORE grant.   


“The Foundation can respond to elite opportunities to move medicine forward because so many generous people have given us flexible, unrestricted support,” says Julia Ruvelson, vice president, Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. “The amazing potential of the SPORE grant is a testament to the power of giving.”


Strides Made in Inherited Endometrial Cancer


Endometrial cancer is the fourth most common cancer in American women. Every year, 40,000 cases of endometrial cancer are diagnosed, and more than 7,000 women die from the disease. Each year, both the incidence of endometrial cancer and its mortality increase.


Dr. Mutch and Goodfellow’s partnership combines basic science and clinical research to directly benefit patients. The research team has identified certain abnormal molecules that lead to endometrial cancer. In addition, the research team has identified a subgroup of women who are susceptible to endometrial cancer because of inherited or acquired mutations in their DNA repair genes. The discovery of the inherited mutations has led to changes in clinical care for these women and their relatives, who are watched carefully for such signs of related malignancies such as colon, bladder or ovarian cancer.


The study has direct implications for St. Louis families. “By identifying genes, we went quickly from ‘bench to bedside’ with new therapeutic options,” Dr. Mutch says. “For example, through our studies, we’ve identified many families in St. Louis that had an inherited form of endometrial cancer. If these families are screened regularly, their risk of colon cancer decreases.”


Landmark Discoveries Lead to More Funding


The researchers’ landmark discoveries identifying the genetic abnormalities that play a critical role in endometrial tumor development has contributed to Goodfellow and Dr. Mutch being recognized as national leaders in their fields. And this work caught the attention of SPORE reviewers. Dr. Mutch credits the support he and Goodfellow have received along the way that led to the SPORE.


“The Staenberg Fund and the Poetting Endowment Fund of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation were instrumental in our progress over the past two years,” Dr. Mutch says. “The funding supported endometrial and ovarian cancer research while also allowing us to recruit and promote junior faculty to advance other studies, including those on ovarian cancer.”


One of Goodfellow and Dr. Mutch’s current research projects intends to determine the best way to screen patients with endometrial cancer for the genetic mutation that leads to the inherited form of the disease. “The goal is to ensure no one with hereditary cancer is missed,” Dr. Mutch says.  “We’re focused on determining the most cost-effective and reliable approaches to screening that will translate to a reduction in cancer burden for the patient and her family.”


One of Dr. Mutch’s other goals is to develop more personalized cancer treatments. “If we’ve identified a genetic mutation, ideally we would have a specific drug treatment for that type of cancer versus another cancer. We’re working toward that.”


 Dr. Mutch is excited about the possibilities brought by  support such as the Poetting Endowment Fund, the Staenberg Fund and the SPORE grant. “Gifts and grants tend to have a snowball effect — more gets more. And we’ve been able to bring more to our research to quickly provide a direct benefit to patients.”


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