MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – They may be some of the most sacred people in our country right now – cancer researchers.

It can seem like cancer is everywhere and everyone wants a cure, but some types are harder than others to fight. Ovarian cancer is one of them. It hits 1 in 72 women and 50 percent of those women pass away within five years.

Unlike breast cancer, research is limited for ovarian cancer.

But some Minnesotans could be on the forefront.

Reuben Harris is a professor of biochemistry at the University of Minnesota. He oversees a bustling lab of researchers, some of whom are working on ovarian cancer.

“My aunt had ovarian cancer, I learned later. I was too young to realize what it was at the time,” he said.

Some of his research he could not have imagined.

“Without MOCA, I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t have even been bold enough to venture in to ovarian cancer research,” he said.

MOCA is the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance, a group started by survivors in 1999.

Kathleen Gavin is the executive director of the group.

“MOCA’s been involved in the national research scene through the Stand Up to Cancer grant. We also were able to award more research funding than ever before. We gave out $660,000 last May to researchers in Minnesota,” Gavin said.

Harris is using his grant from MOCA to find a way to stop ovarian cancer from mutating and recurring as it often does.

“We want to stop those mutations that turn a primary cancer into an aggressive metastasizing cancer so that those additional changes don’t happen,” Harris said.

Studies in mice are hopeful and the technique in humans would be an injection.

“This is a step quite far down the path to where it ultimately translating into people who need it,” Harris said.

Across campus, gynecological cancer specialist Dr. Melissa Geller is using money from MOCA too.

“We need the money that MOCA gives us now so that we can start these projects, get what we call pilot data or initial data, so that we can go to the big cancer institutes and the government for money to keep funding this research,” Geller said.

She said ovarian cancer is sneaky, it often comes back and when it does it’s often deadly. So she’s finding a way for survivors to literally use the strength of others.

“If you were to have ovarian cancer, we would ask that your mother or your sister or your brother donate their natural killer cells to you,” Geller said.

She said research is yielding hope.

“We’ve had some patients who have been able to be off chemotherapy for some time. Unfortunately we have not found the cure that we’re looking for but I think we’re making headway,” Geller said.

If you’d like to learn more about MOCA, visit Accomplish MN or MOCA online.

There’s a link to donate to MOCA, and people who donate $25 or more will get a free tree ornament from HOM Furniture.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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