Rosemary Foster, Ph.D.

Rosemary Foster, Ph.D.

Investigator, Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology

Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Harvard Medical School

Brief Overview of Foster Lab Research

Dr. Foster's research efforts in ovarian cancer have grown to include multiple research projects that are designed to improve the clinical management of this disease both by further understanding the biology underlying ovarian tumor development and identifying effective targeted therapies.

Her primary research interest has been the identification and characterization of the ovarian cancer stem cell. Cancer stem cells are postulated to drive tumorigenesis through unlimited self-renewal and proliferation, and it is likely that most tumors contain rare subpopulations of specialized regenerative cells with stem cell-like qualities making these cells critical targets of more clinically effective therapies. In her initial efforts to identify the ovarian cancer stem cell, she developed an in vivo experimental system in which primary uncultured human ovarian tumors are reliably propagated in NOD/SCID mice, generating heterogeneous tumors that maintain the histological integrity of the parental tumor. The successful serial transplantation of human ovarian tumors in this in vivo system supports the hypothesis that these tumors contain a population of cells capable of self-renewal. Further analyses indicated that expression of the cell surface protein CD133 defines a NOD/SCID tumor initiating subpopulation of cells in human ovarian cancer that may be an important target for new chemotherapeutic strategies aimed at eliminating ovarian cancer (Stem Cells 2009 27: 2875-2883). In collaboration with Dr. Bo Rueda, Dr. Foster has used her in vivo serial transplantation system as a valuable pre-clinical model with which they can begin to test the ability of novel therapeutics that target specific signaling pathways to affect ovarian tumor formation and growth.

Dr. Foster's more recent work focuses on molecular analyses of the identified tumor initiating cell population to uncover the critical genes and/or signaling pathways that underlie ovarian tumor development. This approach will allow them to better understand the pathobiology of these specialized cells and their subsequent contribution to tumor initiation, maintenance and/or recurrence. Ultimately, the characterization of specific genetic and signaling pathway alterations in these cells may lead to the discovery of novel biologic targets that can be used to design alternative treatment modalities and/or new adjuvant therapies aimed at eradicating this disease.