Research Partnership and Goals

Belles with Balls NL is proud to donate all proceeds to the Ovarian Cancer Research and Education (OCRE) Fund at Memorial University. The OCRE Fund provides assistance to researchers exploring the genetic markers that may impact Ovarian Cancer patients in Newfoundland and Labrador. As well, it hosts educational events for the general public with speakers from various professions including researchers, oncologists, gynecologists, a nurse, pharmacist, psychologist and Ovarian Cancer survivors.

Currently, there is no effective detection test for Ovarian Cancer which unfortunately results in most patients being diagnosed in late stages of the disease. By supporting OCRE, Belles with Balls NL hopes to further uncover the genetic component of Ovarian Cancer to create a better detection test.

Current Research

The Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University is currently researching Ovarian Cancer genetics through the Lynch Syndrome Lab. The Ovarian Cancer research team at Memorial is led by Dr. Lesa Dawson MD FRCSC and Dr. Darren O’Rielly PhD CCMG. Dr. Dawson is an Associate Professor at Memorial University and a Gynecologic Oncologist who specializes in cancer genetics and prevention. Dr. O’Rielly is the director of the molecular genetics laboratory at Memorial University.

Ovarian Cancer-specific Newfoundland-based research studies ongoing include:

  • Evaluation of RAD51C genetic variant to discover a possible founder mutation in Newfoundland. This project is working with five large Newfoundland families with many ovarian cancers to find out if a particular rare change in this gene is responsible for the many breast and ovarian cancers.
  • A project to see if the birth control pill lowers ovarian and endometrial cancer rates in women with Lynch Syndrome. Lynch syndrome carries very high rates of ovarian endometrial and colon cancer.
  • A study to determine why almost one half of women with BRCA (Hereditary Breast Ovarian Syndrome) in Newfoundland are not getting breast cancer screening or ovarian surgery, despite clear evidence that these interventions are lifesaving
  • A proposal to build an inherited cancer family registry that would assist mutation positive Newfoundlanders with prevention and screening and give them extra support.
  • A project that studies ovarian cancer families who have inconclusive genetic testing results. This will be very complex molecular genetics analyses to figure out of changes seen in the genes are causing cancers in the family.
  • A new imitative to review all new cases of ovarian cancer in the province and make sure that each woman gets appropriate genetic evaluation and testing.
  • A laboratory project to review all cases of women in the province with ovarian cancer and carry out specialized tumour testing to see if they might be eligible for a brand new ovarian cancer drug (in pill form-not chemotherapy) that has just been approved in Canada.

Key Researchers

The Lynch Syndrome Lab consists of a very dedicated staff of professionals including Dr. Lesa Dawson and Dr. Darren O’Rielly who along with their colleagues, work on the projects listed above. To find out more about them please see the research team.

We would like to draw attention to Dr. Lesa Dawson and Kerri Smith who work closely with the Ovarian Cancer Research and Education (OCRE) fund and dedicate countless hours to the research projects.

Dr. Lesa Dawson, MD FRCSClesa

Dr. Lesa Dawson completed a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and a fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Calgary. She holds a diploma in clinical epidemiology, and advanced training in Clinical Cancer Risk Assessment from The City of Hope Cancer Centre in Los Angeles, California. Her practice is in St. John’s, Newfoundland where she runs a Hereditary Cancer Prevention Clinic. She established an Inherited Gynecologic Cancer Screening & Prevention Clinic in 2002 to work towards her goal of increasing education and research about the importance of genetics in cancer. Her research is focused on gynecologic cancer prevention in women with Lynch Syndrome and BRCA mutations within Newfoundland families.

Ovarian Cancer Genetic Research 

Dr. Dawson was featured in the following article on Ovarian Cancer Canada’s website which demonstrates the important role genetic testing plays in Ovarian Cancer detection. Below is excerpts of that article.

Genetic testing has been a hot topic in the news lately. People are starting to use genetic test information to chart the course for disease prevention with their health care professionals. For women with ovarian cancer, and their family members, the subject is of particular importance.

“As many as 23 per cent of women with ovarian cancer have an inherited genetic mutation,” says Dr. Lesa Dawson, Gynecologic Oncologist, Women’s Health and Genetics, Memorial University of Newfoundland. “This means that an error, similar to a spelling mistake, is found in genes such as BRCA 1 or 2. Identifying these mutations can be helpful to a woman’s future treatment, and can also give her family members the opportunity to pursue testing themselves and determine if their own cancer risk is elevated.”

Dr. Dawson’s research is focused on cancer prevention in women with certain gene mutations. To help explain the role of genes in disease development and prevention, she hand selected a line-up of speakers to support the following webinars:

  • Cancer Genetics: What you need to know
  • Everything you want to know about genetic testing
  • Cancer prevention and screening in BRCA carriers

BRCA gene mutations are involved in most cases of hereditary ovarian cancer. While all women have BRCA genes, when these genes develop a mutation they can increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer up to 60 per cent.

“As there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, genetic testing is a way to identify people who are at high risk before they develop the disease. From there, we can provide health advice based on the kind of gene mutation that’s found,” says Dr. Dawson. “For instance, if a woman with ovarian cancer is found to carry a BRCA gene mutation, her daughter can be tested. If positive, it means that she is at increased risk for both ovarian cancer and breast cancer, so we’d have an informed discussion about how she might reduce risk for ovarian cancer and we’d recommend intensive screening for breast cancer.”

“The GOC and our partners, including Ovarian Cancer Canada, are working to ensure that every woman with ovarian cancer, regardless of her family history, has access to genetic testing,” she adds. “Our most pressing priority is to ensure that ‘No Woman is Left Behind’ when it comes to genetic testing because understanding your genetics can enable risk reduction for your family, and potentially target treatment.”