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Ursula A. Matulonis, MD

Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Chief and Director, Division of Gynecologic Oncology
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Boston, Massachusetts

Current Research

  • Studies are focused on improving response to PARP inhibitor therapy in breast and ovarian cancer.
     
  • Laboratory and clinical studies are conducted to test combination approaches to improve response to PARP inhibitors.
     
  • These studies may benefit patients with triple negative breast cancer, as TNBC tumors share common biology with ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is an aggressive disease with few treatment options. A class of drugs called PARP inhibitors has been approved for treatment of ovarian cancers caused by mutations in the BRCA genes. Resistance to PARP therapy, however, reduces the clinical benefit of these drugs. Drs. Matulonis, Berkowitz and Konstantinopoulos are studying ways to increase the effectiveness of PARP inhibitors for patients with ovarian cancer as well as an aggressive form of breast cancer called triple negative.

Full Research Summary

Drs. Matulonis, Berkowitz, and Konstantinopoulos have joined forces to study the common genetic features of breast and ovarian cancers.  Using information from collaborative clinical trials, publicly available data from researchers around the world, and emerging technologies, they are leveraging discoveries made in one disease to benefit the other. They then use this information to better understand drug resistance and to identify new biomarkers and therapeutic targets.

PARP inhibitors are a class of drugs that interfere with repair of damaged DNA and have been effective in ovarian cancers that harbor BRCA mutations. With the expanded use of PARP inhibitors following FDA approvals in recurrent ovarian cancer and breast cancer, the Dana Farber/ Brigham and Women's Hospital team is focused on understanding and overcoming the underlying mechanisms that allows the cancer cell to become resistant to PARP inhibitors.  

They are conducting laboratory studies to test combination strategies that if found promising will be further tested in clinical trials. Of particular interest are combinations of PARP inhibitors with other biologic agents that inhibit DNA repair that can convert a cancer cell from one that can repair DNA (and is resistant to PARP inhibitors) into one that does not repair DNA. 

With the approval of olaparib (Lynarza®) for advanced BRCA breast cancer–most of which are of the triple negative subtype, findings from these studies have the potential to benefit more patients with aggressive breast and ovarian cancers.

Biography

Ursula A. Matulonis, MD, is Chief and Director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.  She is the first recipient of the Brock-Wilson Family Chair at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  She co-leads the ovarian cancer program within the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Her research focuses on developing new targeted therapies for gynecologic malignancies, with a specific interest in ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.   

 Dr. Matulonis has led several PARP inhibitor, anti-angiogenic agent, immunotherapy, and combination trials for ovarian cancer in the United States and internationally. Dr. Matulonis serves on the Massachusetts Ovarian Cancer Task Force, the NRG ovarian committee, and the Scientific Advisory Board for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation and the Clearity Foundation.  She received the Dana-Farber Dennis Thompson Compassionate Care Scholar award, the Lee M. Nadler “Extra Mile” Award, the Clearity Foundation award, and the Zakim Award at Dana-Farber for patient advocacy.  

After receiving her MD from Albany Medical College, she completed an internship and residency at the University of Pittsburgh, followed by a medical oncology fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA

BCRF Investigator Since

2008

Donor Recognition

The Play for P.I.N.K. Award

Area(s) of Focus