For several years, Dipanjan Chowdhury, PhD, chief of the Division of Radiation and Genome Stability at Dana-Farber, has been working to improve early detection tools for ovarian cancer. Often referred to as a “silent” disease, ovarian cancer is typically asymptomatic in its earliest, most treatable stages. As a result, most women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer when it is at an advanced stage, at which point only about a quarter of patients will survive for at least five years.
For Veronica de Piante Vicin, these statistics are personal. Her late mother, Ana Maria Lolla, faced advanced ovarian cancer twice in her lifetime, and the disease unfortunately runs in the family. Her mother was treated overseas, with consultations from the Dana-Farber care team, and during this time, de Piante Vicin resolved herself to helping spare others from the pain of ovarian cancer if she could.
When Ana Maria ultimately passed away in 2014, that desire to help grew stronger. And when de Piante Vicin was introduced to Chowdhury and his research at Dana-Farber, she knew right away that she wanted to get involved. In 2016, she established the Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Fund in honor of Ana Maria Lolla.
“Dipanjan is just so passionate. He really believes he is going to get there,” said de Piante Vicin. “He believes he’ll actually get the results that are needed to help so many women.”
Chowdhury and his colleagues discovered a specific set of 14 circulating microRNAs (miRNAs)—a type of molecule that helps cells control the kinds and amounts of proteins they make—in the blood of ovarian cancer patients. Over the last few years, his team has been using this knowledge to develop a highly sensitive blood test that can detect early-stage disease.
“Ovarian cancer detected early is more curable, so the development of accurate and sensitive tests is an enormous priority for high-risk families,” said Chowdhury, who also serves as co-director of the Center for BRCA and Related Genes at Dana-Farber. “We have seen tremendous progress over the last few years, and that’s thanks in large part to supporters like Veronica who believe in this work and what it could mean for countless women.”
Early detection is a major priority of The Dana-Farber Campaign, and Chowdhury’s research is the kind of approach that could make that goal a reality. But the faith that de Piante Vicin has in Chowdhury as a person represents what makes Dana-Farber so special to so many: the brilliant, compassionate people behind the mission.
“There’s a positivity about Dipanjan that’s infectious, that’s tangible, and my mother had the same positivity, even throughout treatment,” said de Piante Vicin. “I think she would be immensely proud to know that it’s in her name and that this test could avoid a lot of the pain. She’d be very, very happy.”