Research Will Pave The Way for New Therapeutic Alternatives

Jul 31, 2017

With the help of Colleen's Dream Foundation(link is external), a University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix researcher is working to improve the outlook for ovarian cancer patients by studying a new class of natural compounds.

Jerome Lacombe, PhD, was awarded a $15,000 grant by the foundation. The grant will be used to further Dr. Lacombe's ovarian cancer research pertaining to withanolides, a group of naturally occurring compounds that have recently emerged as a potential anti-cancer agent.

Dr. Lacombe is a member of the research faculty at the Center for Applied NanoBioscience and Medicine at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine – Phoenix, specializing in the discovery of cancer biomarkers. Last year, the Center also received a $10,000 grant from Colleen’s Dream Foundation for cancer research.

The foundation funds ovarian cancer research with the primary goal of developing an accurate and accessible early detection test. Colleen Drury’s fight against ovarian cancer, which began in 2007, was the inspiration for the foundation. She was one of the foundation’s original board members.

Valley Toyota Dealers sponsored the grant with funds raised from its 2017 Golf Tournament and their Evening of Dreams Gala.

“The Valley Toyota Dealers are honored to support Dr. Lacombe and Colleen’s Dream, an organization in our own backyard that is working to save the lives of women across the U.S.,” said Rob Ginis, a Valley Toyota Dealers board member. “We’re proud to support their mission to improve ovarian cancer survival rates.”

Ovarian tumors are highly resistant to radiation, creating a need for more effective therapies and treatment approaches. It has the highest mortality rate of all gynecologic cancers, as more than 80 percent of women have advanced (stage 3 or 4) cancer when they are diagnosed. The standard, first-line treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery and chemotherapy. A majority of patients will experience disease recurrence, attributed to chemotherapy drug resistance. Withanolides, extracted from the plant ashwagandha, are used in various countries as a form of treatment for a variety of illnesses. They have proved to be effective as a diuretic, anti-inflammatory drug, sedative and as an antitussive or immunomodulatory agent.

Various studies from numerous kinds of cancers have shown that these natural products are able to sensitize tumors that are resistant to current chemotherapy drugs, as well as radiation treatment. The team led by Dr. Lacombe proposes to investigate these therapeutic mechanisms, while identifying and testing new withanolide compounds developed by collaborators at the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Natural Products Center.

Nicole Cundiff, CEO and Co-Founder of Colleen’s Dream Foundation, said her mother, Colleen, was treated for ovarian cancer at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson. “We have firsthand knowledge of the university’s strong commitment to staying on the cutting edge of cancer research. A study that delves into the improvement of ovarian cancer treatment is crucial, as the platinum-based drugs that are generally administered to ovarian cancer patients are extremely toxic,” she said.

Colleen’s Dream was founded in 2012 by Nicole and her husband, Billy Cundiff, a 12-year veteran kicker in the NFL. Nicole's mother, Colleen Drury, was the foundation's inspiration and namesake. She served on the Board of Directors until she succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2013. By the end of 2017, Colleen's Dream is projected to have funded approximately $1 million in grants, supporting more than two dozen ovarian cancer research projects across the nation.

“Colleen's Dream is proud to support research in Arizona, made possible by our incredible partnership with Valley Toyota Dealers. We are excited about Dr. Lacombe's research and hope this grant proves useful in his team's quest to discover new and more effective ways to treat ovarian cancer,” said Billy Cundiff, board chair.

“This is a cause that the Valley Toyota Dealers is passionate about, and because so little is known about ovarian cancer in proportion to other women’s health issues, we are committed to helping raise awareness,” said John O’Malley, president of the Valley Toyota Dealers.


Dr. Lacombe received his PhD in biomedical sciences at the University of Montpellier, France, where he used proteomic approaches to characterize the humoral breast tumor response. During his different postdoctoral positions, he worked in the radiobiology field, identifying biomarkers for normal tissue late radiation-induced toxicity. His current research focuses on the identification and characterization of cancer biomarkers involved in drug and radiation treatment response.


Founded in 1989, Valley Toyota Dealers is the Toyota Dealer Association consisting of all 10 Toyota dealers in the metropolitan Phoenix area: AutoNation Tempe, Avondale, Bell Road, Big Two, Camelback, Earnhardt, Larry Miller, Right, Riverview and Toyota of Surprise.


Colleen’s Dream is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to funding investigational scientific research with the primary goal of developing and establishing an accurate and accessible early detection test for ovarian cancer. For more information about Colleen’s Dream Foundation, or to donate, call 480-269-2266.

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