Van Andel Research Institute’s Hui Shen receives ovarian cancer research award

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Nov. 18, 2015)—The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) announced yesterday that Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) Assistant Professor Hui Shen, Ph.D., has received a prestigious award to support her search for the cells of origin for ovarian cancer.

OCRF established The Liz Tilberis Early Career Award in December 2000 in honor of former OCRF president and Harper’s Bazaar Editor-in-Chief Liz Tilberis, who died of ovarian cancer in 1999. The award is given to junior faculty with a strong commitment to an investigative career in ovarian cancer research. OCRF is the largest and oldest private funder of ovarian cancer research in the United States.

Hui Shen, Ph.D.
Hui Shen, Ph.D.

“I am extremely honored to receive this award,” Shen said. “Liz Tilberis’s story is a poignant reminder of why we need to understand the origin of ovarian cancer better, in order to combat the disease through improved diagnostics, early intervention and therapeutics. It’s my hope that our research will significantly contribute to the development of these tools.”

About 20,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. The disease accounts for more deaths than all other gynecological cancers, and is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women. If caught early, it is highly treatable; however, roughly 80 percent of cases are diagnosed at a later stage, making treatment more challenging.

Shen is one of six awardees, each of whom will receive a three-year grant of $150,000 annually to support their ovarian cancer research. She will investigate differences between cell types that may be used to pinpoint ovarian cancer’s cells of origin.

Every cell has an “epigenetic fingerprint,” a sort of molecular memory that is passed down to other cells that arise from the original cell. Cancer cells are no exception. By determining and comparing the “epigenetic fingerprints” of specific genomic regions of ovarian cancer cells and normal ovarian cells, Shen plans to identify which normal cell types are the origin of the cancer cells. This information will give scientists and physicians a crucial piece of the puzzle when developing new therapies and determining the appropriate treatment.

Her work also will provide epigenetic maps for two closely related types of cancer, which her earlier research has indicated may share a cell of origin. Endometriod cancer and clear cell ovarian cancer are both associated with endometriosis, but differ in the expression on the gene HNF1B. Shen’s research could provide a more detailed understanding of the similarities and differences in these cancers, and lay the foundation for the development of new treatments.

Shen joined VARI as an assistant professor in 2014 following a postdoctoral fellowship with Peter W. Laird, Ph.D., at University of Southern California. She plays an integral role in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a National Institutes of Health-funded, multi-institutional effort to genomically characterize several different cancers. She also participates in the work of the VARI–Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team.

“We were absolutely delighted to hear about Dr. Shen’s award,” said Peter Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc., VARI’s research director. “She is an exceptionally talented young scientist who has already made significant contributions to our understanding of the genomic and epigenomic backgrounds of several cancers. We look forward to the excellent work she will conduct as part of the award.”


Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent nonprofit biomedical research and science education organization committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations. Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, VAI has grown into a premier research and educational institution that supports the work of more than 330 scientists, educators and staff. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI’s research division, is dedicated to determining the epigenetic, genetic, molecular and cellular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translating those findings into effective therapies. The Institute’s scientists work in onsite laboratories and participate in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. 100% To Research, Discovery & Hope®

Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) is the oldest and largest charity in the United States funding ovarian cancer research with a mission to fund scientific research that leads to more effective identification, treatment, and ultimately a cure for ovarian cancer, as well as related educational and support initiatives. Approximately 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, and nearly 15,500 women will die of the disease.  Since 1998, OCRF has awarded over $65 million to ovarian cancer researchers around the country. OCRF also supports Woman to Woman, a national program which in 2015 will be providing support through more than 20 hospitals around the country to women in treatment for any gynecologic cancer, as well as their families, by pairing them with survivor volunteers who offer one-on-one emotional support and mentoring.  Visit to learn more.


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