New Research Initiatives for Ovarian Cancer Receive Funding Through RPCI-UPCI SPORE

Total of $275,000 awarded to six researchers to jump-start investigations
Friday, June 6, 2014

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Six projects that seek new ways to harness the immune system in order to prolong the survival of women with ovarian cancer received project funding from a landmark grant jointly held by Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (Roswell Park) and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI).

In September 2013, Roswell Park and UPCI were awarded an $11 million Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to fund innovative and multidisciplinary research in ovarian cancer. As part of this grant, investigators from Roswell Park, UPCI and the University at Buffalo were eligible to apply for Career Development Program (CDP) and Developmental Research Program (DRP) funding. These programs are intended to attract investigators to ovarian cancer research — junior faculty through CDP grants, and established investigators through DRP awards. The grants provide startup funding for research that contributes to the overall SPORE goals.

The highly competitive Roswell Park/UPCI Ovarian Cancer program is unique among NCI SPORE projects because it concentrates exclusively on immunological approaches to ovarian cancer risk assessment and treatment. Survival rates remain poor for women diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, a category that applies to more than 75% of patients with the disease.

“The scientific projects supported by these developmental awards will compliment and expand the overall theme of the SPORE: finding novel immunotherapeutic treatment options for women with ovarian cancer,” says SPORE Principal Investigator Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, The M. Steven Piver Professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Executive Director of the Center for Immunotherapy at Roswell Park. “We are hopeful that this work will ultimately lead to improved treatment outcomes for women afflicted with this disease.”

This first cycle of grants provided funding for two career development projects and four developmental research projects. Grant recipients and their funded projects:

  • Junko Matsuzaki, PhD, Director of the Immune Analysis Facility at Roswell Park, received $50,000 for a career development project titled “Development of a novel immunotherapeutic strategy for ovarian cancer patients using tumor-recognizing CD4+ T cells”
  • Natasa Obermajer, PhD, a Research Associate with the University of Pittsburgh Department of Immunology, received $50,000 for her career development project, “Overcoming ovarian cancer-associated immunosuppression by regulating Th17/Treg placidity”
  • Danuta Kozbor, PhD, an Associate Professor of Immunology and Microbiology at Roswell Park, received $50,000 for a developmental research project titled “Invasive ovarian cancer models for treatment with oncolytic virotherapy”
  • Brahm Segal, MD, Chief of Infectious Diseases; Professor of Oncology, Department of Medicine; and Associate Member, Department of Immunology, at Roswell Park, received $50,000 for his developmental research project, “Evaluation of novel immune biomarkers for ovarian cancer”
  • Jo Freudenheim, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Social and Preventive Medicine at UB, received $25,000 for the developmental research project “Infection in the etiology of ovarian cancer”
  • Anda Vlad, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at UPCI, received $50,000 for her developmental research project, titled “Inflammation and intratumoral immune checkpoint activity in ovarian cancer”

“We were delighted by the large number of applications for our first round of funding,” said Kirsten B. Moysich, PhD, a Professor in the departments of Immunology and Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park who directs both the CDP and DRP award programs in her role as Co-Principal Investigator of the Roswell Park-UPMC Ovarian Cancer SPORE. “These programs unite both established investigators and promising young scientists and clinicians in a common purpose — an outstanding model for moving the field of ovarian cancer research forward quickly and strategically.”


The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, Roswell Park is one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email Follow Roswell Park on Facebook and Twitter.

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Annie Deck-Miller, Senior Media Relations Manager