Elena Driscoll was always healthy. So in late 2019, when she began experiencing symptoms like bloating and fatigue, her doctors insisted it was symptoms of menopause. As the symptoms worsened, Elena sensed something more was going on, and in early 2020, she was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer.
Elena’s story is a familiar one for many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The disease is often difficult to diagnose in its earliest stages because symptoms can be vague or similar to those of common conditions, like menopause.
“I think it’s important for us to advocate for ourselves, to know our bodies, and know when we feel something is not right,” said Elena. “I want to share my story to help people be more aware, and to advance the pursuit of treatments that can improve outcomes for patients facing this disease.”
That drive to make a difference inspired Elena and her husband, Tom, to give $1 million in support of ovarian cancer research under the direction of Elena’s doctor, Ursula Matulonis, MD, chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology and the Brock-Wilson Family Chair at Dana-Farber. The funds will support research into natural killer (NK) cellular therapies for ovarian cancer, a promising new avenue of immunotherapy being pursued by Dana-Farber’s Rizwan Romee, MD.
“From what we’ve learned, NK cellular therapy seems to be a very promising treatment option,” said Tom Driscoll. “We wanted to provide funding that jumpstarts novel and promising areas of ovarian cancer research—areas that may be underfunded. We feel that Romee’s work is clearly something that will advance the field and improve outcomes.”
NK cells demolish diseased cells and can eliminate cancer circulating in the body—but they are short-lived and often do not “remember” or recognize cancer cells to strike again. In 2012, Romee and his colleagues were the first to generate an immune response in human NK cells by employing lab-modified cytokine induced memory-like (CIML) NK cells, which are enhanced to gain memory function, proliferate inside the body, and persist longer than standard NK cells.
“This type of therapy has already shown promise in other forms of cancer,” said Romee, who serves as director of the Haploidentical Donor Transplantation Program at Dana-Farber. “Now, thanks in part to funding from the Driscolls, my team is working closely with Dr. Matulonis to test this therapy for use against recurrent high-grade ovarian cancer.”
“I am so grateful to the Driscolls for supporting this important project, which will have a significant and lasting impact on patients facing ovarian cancer,” said Matulonis. “Their incredibly generous gift enables us to continue improving the quality, breadth, and durability of urgently needed treatment options for this cancer.”