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The main focus of research in the Doherty Lab includes features of prevention, prognosis, and survivorship as they relate to the molecular and genetic epidemiology of ovarian and lung cancers. Major research areas combine elements of ovarian and lung cancer histotyping and epidemiology, molecular biomarkers, race/ethnic disparities, understanding genomic variation for prevention and treatment, risk stratification, and lifestyle influences.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is challenging to study for a number of reasons. It is a rare disease and therefore screening tests require nearly perfect sensitivity and specificity to be effective, and it is typically diagnosed at a late stage, with poor survival. Accumulating evidence has led to the understanding that ovarian cancer is not a single disease; rather, it is thought that the various ovarian cancer histologic types and high grade serous (HGSC) molecular subtypes may have different etiologies. Furthermore, almost all research of the molecular epidemiology of ovarian cancer to date has been in women of European ancestry. Therefore, Dr. Doherty’s ovarian cancer research program has three main objectives:

  1. To elucidate similarities and differences in epidemiologic and genetic risk factors and survival across the histologies and HGSC subtypes of ovarian cancer, with the goal of understanding the underlying causes of each so that preventive measures can be developed
  2. To identify candidate genes and pathways that drive the development of each of the subtypes so that targeted treatments can be developed
  3. To characterize epidemiologic and molecular features of ovarian cancer in diverse populations

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths than prostate, breast, and colon cancers combined. While smoking cessation is a key means to reduce the incidence of lung cancer, former smokers remain at high risk for many years after quitting. Low-dose CT scan screening of high-risk individuals holds promise to reduce lung cancer mortality, but the false positive rate even among this high-risk group remains quite high.

Much of Dr. Doherty’s lung cancer work focuses on identifying factors of individuals with a heavy smoking history that differentiate between who will and who will not eventually develop lung cancer, with these goals: incorporating these factors into models for risk stratification for lung cancer screening regimens, and reducing false positive screens. Two potential biomarkers of lung cancer risk in heavy smokers studied by the Doherty Lab include telomere length and genome-wide DNA methylation, both assayed from blood taken prior to lung cancer diagnosis. These pre-diagnosis molecular features have also been assessed or are being assessed for their role in predicting survival.

Nevertheless, not all lung cancers can be attributable to smoking. Utah has the lowest rate of smoking in the country, yet approximately 20% of the lung cancer diagnoses in Utah occur in never-smokers. Given that never-smoking lung cancer cases are a historically understudied group in terms of risk, response to treatment, and survival, the Doherty Lab is interested in elucidating these features as well.

Jennifer Doherty, MS, PhD

Principal Investigator

Huntsman Cancer Institute
2000 Circle of Hope, Rm 4721
Salt Lake City, UT 84112

Phone: 801-213-5681