Researcher Spotlight: Conquering Cancer With Emily Ko, MD, MSCR

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Emily Ko, MD, MSCR

To do this kind of work involves quite a bit of coordinated care—between all the clinicians, the researchers, the patients, and the support staff. For this reason, I think having the generosity of grant donors and the Conquer Cancer Foundation is immensely helpful.

—Emily Ko, MD, MSCR

One of the best ways to prevent cancer is by finding new, better treatments for conditions that are considered risk factors. That is why Emily Ko, MD, MSCR, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, is investigating a new method for treating endometrial hyperplasia.

Endometrial hyperplasia, an unusual development of the lining of the uterus, is a precursor to endometrial cancer. It may cause other complications, including very heavy periods that may lead to anemia, sometimes even requiring blood transfusions. Endometrial hyperplasia can also progress to a severe form that is even more strongly associated with endometrial cancer.

Metformin in Endometrial Hyperplasia

Dr. Ko’s 2012 Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award is supporting a clinical trial examining metformin for the treatment of endometrial hyperplasia. Metformin is a drug traditionally used to treat diabetes in adults. “There has been increasing research that suggests metformin might be very helpful as a treatment or adjunct treatment for various solid tumors, and it might also help to regulate the endometrium, particularly for women who have irregular cycles,” said Dr. Ko.

Historically, women with endometrial hyperplasia have taken progesterone-based drugs that often have unwanted side effects, such as mood changes, gastrointestinal problems, and weight gain, the last of which is itself a risk factor for various cancers. “Metformin may actually help some women lose weight. It’s not the purpose of using this drug, but it’s a noted potential benefit,” said Dr. Ko. “If there’s an option to try a different agent that might confer additional benefits, as well as have less of a side-effect profile, it might open up more opportunities for patients.”

Dr. Ko’s Conquer Cancer Foundation–funded clinical trial is ongoing, actively enrolling patients at both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina. The results should be forthcoming in the next year.

“We’re trying to find new ways to treat something, resulting in a better treatment situation for the patient,” said Dr. Ko. “Without the donors’ generosity, it would be much more difficult to conduct this kind of research for all of us young investigators.” ■

© 2015. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.