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OU Health researchers receive millions in grants to study endometrial cancer

Dr. Doris Benbrook, the director of the Women's Cancer Program at OU Health
Dr. Doris Benbrook, the director of the Women's Cancer Program at OU Health

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center is receiving millions in grant funding alongside Washington University in St. Louis and the University of New Mexico to fund research on endometrial cancer.

The funding is a Specialized Programs of Research Excellence grant that includes $11.6 million over five years from the National Cancer Institute. This is the first time Oklahoma has received this type of funding.

Endometrial cancer has increasing incidence and mortality rates among women. Uterine cancers are the fifth most diagnosed cancer and the eighth highest cause of cancer deaths among Oklahoma women.

The funding will help universities conduct a clinical trial covering three research areas. Oklahoma will study how a drug, called OK-1, created by Stephenson Cancer Center researcher Doris Benbrook, could be combined with chemotherapy to treat endometrial cancer.

This trial will begin after an ideal dosage is determined for the drug in a separate trial.

Washington University will test an inhibitor to block a protein involved in endometrial cancer, and the University of New Mexico will investigate how a weight loss drug could be used to prevent and treat early-stage endometrial cancer.

Obesity and diabetes have been linked to the beginning stages of endometrial cancer.

OU Stephenson Cancer Center Director Robert Mannel said in a news release he’s excited about the grant and innovative clinical trials it will bring to the state.

“The clinical trials, combined with laboratory-based research funded by this grant, hold tremendous potential for improving our options for both preventing and treating endometrial cancer,” Mannel said.

The grant will also fund various projects to address racial disparities among women diagnosed with this cancer and support the work of early-career researchers from underrepresented populations.

“The community advisory boards at Stephenson Cancer Center will help spread the word about our clinical trials to people who have historically been underrepresented,” Benbrook said. “That underrepresentation means the clinical trials don’t adequately address how a treatment affects people from various racial groups and ethnicities.”

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Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.
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