Dr. Analisa DiFeo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology and Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School. She completed her doctoral research in 2008 at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York where she played a central role in defining alternative splicing of the KLF6 gene family as a key regulator in ovarian cancer. Prior to joining the University of Michigan Medical School in 2018, Dr. DiFeo was The Norma C. and Albert I. Geller Designated Professor in Ovarian Cancer Research and an Assistant Professor in the Division of General Medical Sciences (Oncology) at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. While at Case Western Reserve University, Dr. DiFeo developed the Gynecologic Oncology Translational Research Program and built a well-integrated, state-of-the-art research program with a rich repository of patient-derived cell lines and mouse ovarian cancer models that are highly useful for translational research and is perfectly poised to perform impactful translational research to detect ovarian cancer earlier and treat it more effectively. Dr. DiFeo’s dedication to ovarian cancer research is evidenced by her accomplishments, which include >66 peer-reviewed publications in prestigious journals. In addition, Dr. DiFeo has been able to secure numerous federal, foundation and industry grants including the OCRA Liz Tilberis Independent Investigator Award, Department of Defense awards, Mary Kay Foundation awards, a Lilly Research Award through Eli Lilly and Company, a National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) preclinical research award and R01 funding through the National Cancer Institute. Lastly, through her efforts in bringing awareness to ovarian cancer and developing a gynecological cancer translational research program in Northeast Ohio, she was chosen as Crain’s Cleveland Business 40 Under 40 honoree. Beyond the aforementioned research, Dr. DiFeo devotes considerable effort to training and mentoring future cancer scientists. She has served numerous T32 Training Program steering committees and she co-founded and serve as Chair of the Board of Scientific Advisors of The Young Scientist Foundation (YSF) (ysf.org). She has trained numerous clinical and basic scientists in her laboratory including Gynecologic Oncology Fellows, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, medical students, undergraduates, high school students and she has served on 18 PhD & MD/PhD thesis committees.
The work performed in the DiFeo laboratory spans the continuum of translational research starting with an in-depth analysis patient samples to functional assessment of key genetic drivers of ovarian cancer progression to the development of a novel therapeutic approach to abrogate these drivers in order to uncover therapies that will improve ovarian cancer patient survival. In order to accomplish this we focus on four major areas: 1) generation of clinically relevant EOC models, 2) development of novel or re-purposed drugs that can work alone or in conjunction with current treatment options to combat this deadly disease, 3) discovery of potent drivers of drug resistance and recurrence, and 4) identify novel biomarkers for early detection or therapeutic response. Some findings that have resulted from these studies include the identification of miRNA’s that are frequently overexpressed in recurrent, platinum-resistant HGSOC tumors and correlates with shorter time to recurrence and poor overall survival. Specifically, we found that miR-181a can modulate several potent cancer-associated pathways such as TGF-β and Wnt signaling which in turn leads to the induction of epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), drug resistance and increase tumor-initiating capacity. Most recently, we have developed a unique method to isolate primary tumor cells based miRNA function and identify drugs that regulate its expression using miRNA biosensors. In addition, the lab has uncovered several novel and re-purposed drugs that can be used to treat HGSOC.
Research Opportunities for Rotating Students
1) development of novel or re-purposed drugs that can work alone or in conjunction with current treatment options to combat this deadly disease
2) discovery of potent drivers of drug resistance and recurrence
- First Generation College Student