Rivkin Center research

These studies help us to build a solid understanding of how the many diseases called ovarian cancer arise and provide clues to stopping the diseases in their tracks.

Since its inception, the Rivkin Center has funded pioneering research in ovarian cancer. Below are highlights of the work carried out by our past awardees to advance the understanding of ovarian cancer and provide the best tools to prevent, detect, and treat ovarian cancer.


By better understanding ovarian cancer, these studies allow for improved prevention, detection, and treatment strategies to be developed.

Heather Cunliffe, PhD – University of Otago (New Zealand) (formerly at Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona)

2012 Pilot Study Award

      • Produced landmark discovery of a mutation in SMARCA4, the genetic cause of a very rare and aggressive type of ovarian cancer that most often strikes girls and young women and published this research in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics
      • Received $38,500 seed award from Genesis Oncology Trust NZ in November 2014 to do preclinical pharmacology for clinical trial (1-2 years of work ahead) developing drugs against this form of ovarian cancer
      • Received $11,500 award from University of Otago

Daniela Dinulescu, PhD – Brigham and Women’s Hospital & Harvard University

2006, 2010, and 2011 Pilot Study Award & Rivkin Grant Reviewer

      • Demonstrated in a mouse model that high-grade serous ovarian cancer originates in fallopian tubes and published this in the prestigious scientific journal Cancer Cell
      • Now possible to test new therapeutics and to develop better early detection tools to fight ovarian cancer using this model that mimics human ovarian cancer. Currently has 5 collaborators with more than 15 potential collaborators wanting to use the model.
      • Received a 2015–2018 Department of Defense grant for $760K total ($450K direct, $310K indirect) to study PARP inhibitor resistance

Patricia Kruk, PhD – University of South Florida

2007 Pilot Study Award & Rivkin Grant Reviewer

      • Found that Bcl-2 protein is high in urine of ovarian cancer patients and is as reliable as CA125 at detecting the presence of ovarian cancer
      • Working with Ovation Diagnostics, a technology company, that has licensed the patent to develop a diagnostic “pee stick” test
      • Figuring out the role of Bcl-2 in driving ovarian cancer

Alex Nikitin, MD, PhD – Cornell University

2008 and 2011 Pilot Study Awards & Rivkin Grant Reviewer

      • Published March 2013 in the prestigious science journal Nature on his discovery of stem cell-like cells that can mutate to form ovarian tumors
      • Received further funding as a result of Rivkin awards
      • 2015 OCRF Program Project Development Grant – $300K/yr for 3 yrs
      • New York Stem Cell Foundation – over $1M ($300K/yr for 3 yrs plus indirects)
      • NIH A1 application scored in 11th percentile (9th percentile and below got funded)


These studies give us the first insights into potential new treatments for ovarian cancer.

Christina Annunziata, MD, PhD – National Cancer Institute

2008 Scientific Scholar and 2009 Pilot Study Awards & Rivkin Grant Reviewer

      • In 2013, opened new national Phase II clinical trial for recurrent or treatment-resistant ovarian cancer using a drug, birinapant, which initiates programmed cell death (apoptosis). The trial showed that the molecular targets were correctly degraded but not enough to shrink tumors.
      • In fall 2015, a new Phase II clinical trial will look at birinapant in combination with taxol to see if these drugs can decrease tumor size and improve survival.

Saul Rivkin, MD – Swedish Cancer Institute & Marsha Rivkin Center

Phase 1b Clinical Trial completed in 2014

      • Found that olaparib tablet (PARP inhibitor) to be safe and effective in heavily pretreated patients with advanced ovarian cancer when given in combination with paclitaxel and carboplatin, especially in women with BRCA gene mutations
      • Phase II extension will recruit up to 40 additional patients

Shailendra Giri, PhD – Henry Ford Health System (formerly at Mayo Clinic)

2009 Scientific Scholar Award

Ramandeep Rattan, PhD – Henry Ford Health System (formerly at Mayo Clinic)

2010 Scientific Scholar Award

      • Both collaborated to demonstrate significantly improved survival in ovarian cancer patients taking the drug metformin, a drug typically used to treat type 2 diabetes
      • Both now head their own independent labs dedicated to ovarian cancer research

Masafumi Toyoshima, MD, PhD – Tohoku School of Medicine (formerly at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center)

2010 Scientific Scholar Award

      • Awarded nearly $1,640,000 from other organizations to perform follow up research on his Rivkin Center-funded study on MYC gene targets in ovarian cancer
      • Original Rivkin Center award totaled $24,452


These studies show that harnessing the immune system can help patients to fight ovarian cancer more effectively and keep them disease free

Ilona Kryczek, PhD – University of Michigan

2008 and 2012 Pilot Study Awards & Rivkin Grant Reviewer

      • Identified a group of immune cells called myeloid-derived suppressor cells which are aiding cancer stem cells to grow. Working on targeting these suppressor cells to revive the immune response and kill stem cells.
      • Major problem with immunotherapy is it only works if immune cells are present in the tumor, so she’s developing better methods to naturally traffic immune cells to the tumor

Michael Goldberg, PhD – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

2014 Kirwin-Hinton Family Scholar

      • Enhancing the ability of immune cells to penetrate into tumors using nanoparticles
      • Study results will allow therapies to be more efficient at killing tumor cells

Martin Cannon, PhD – University of Arkansas for Medical Science

2014 Pilot Study Award

      • Vaccinating dendritic cells in the immune system to improve surveillance for tumor cells
      • Testing drugs to circumvent tumor cells’ ability to suppress the immune system
      • Study results will boost the efficiency of the immune system to respond to and kill ovarian cancer tumor cells


By looking a large number of women with ovarian cancer, these studies glean collective knowledge that can better improve outcomes for women at high risk for ovarian cancer and those already living with ovarian cancer.

M. Robyn Andersen, PhD, MPH – Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Barbara Goff, MD – University of Washington

2003 Rivkin Center Grant & Rivkin Grant Reviewers

      • Defined signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer when none were thought to exist
      • Signs and symptoms used in Robyn’s follow up studies and in independent studies in England and Canada. By offering diagnostic tools to women displaying symptoms, cancers are diagnosed at stages when they are more easily removed by surgery.

Elizabeth Poole, PhD – Brigham and Women’s Hospital

2015 Skacel Family Scholar

      • Identifying factors that contribute to ovarian cancer survival including use of anti-inflammatory medications and anti-stress medications
      • Study results will suggest changes in lifestyle that can help improve survival

Carol Hanchette, PhD – University of Louisville

2014 Pilot Study Award

      • Studying the relationship between pulp and paper mills and the incidence of ovarian cancer
      • Results from this study will inform women about the environmental contributors for ovarian cancer risk