Posted August 11, 2014
Carrie Rinker-Schaeffer, Ph.D., University of Chicago

Carrie Rinker-Schaeffer, Ph.D. The lethality of ovarian cancer stems, primarily, from its being discovered in an advanced, metastatic stage where treatment options are no longer effective. One of the preferential metastatic locations for ovarian cancer is the omentum, a fatty apron-like fold of tissue that is suspended from the stomach and colon. Recent findings suggest that ovarian cancer cells associate with specific spots on the omentum called "milky spots" that contain immune cells, although the mechanism by which ovarian cancer cells prefer these spots is largely unknown. Dr. Carrie Rinker-Schaeffer, at the University of Chicago, has focused her research toward understanding this mechanism and, with support from a Fiscal Year 2008 Idea Development Award, has shown that milky spots of the omentum play distinct and complementary roles in omental metastatic colonization.

Employing animal models, Dr. Rinker-Schaeffer found that ovarian cancer cells preferentially lodge and grow within omental and splenoportal fat, which contain milky spots, rather than uterine, gonadal, or mesenteric fat depots, which lack milky spots. Furthermore, she performed cell migration experiments and found a 95-fold increase in ovarian cancer cell migration when secreted factors from milky spot-containing adipose (fat) tissue were used as chemo-attractants versus factors secreted from milky spot-deficient tissue. Dr. Rinker-Schaeffer further elucidated that these secreted factors associate with adipose tissue macrophages, a type of immune cell that has been shown to increase tumor growth and survival in other tissues. These results represent a new biologic understanding of ovarian cancer cell metastasis.

Dr. Rinker-Schaeffer is excited by these findings and the new avenues of research that they have opened for her and her team. She has recently begun a new collaboration with Dr. Patricia Shaw (University Heath Network, Toronto), a member of the Department of Defense Ovarian Cancer Consortium, to further elucidate the role of milky spot precursor lesions in the metastatic colonization of ovarian cancer. Dr. Rinker-Schaffer hopes that these studies will ultimately lead to the development of novel therapeutic approaches to prevent the formation of ovarian cancer metastases.


Clark R, Venkatesh K, Schoof M, et al. 2013. Milky spots promote ovarian cancer metastatic colonization of peritoneal adipose in experimental models. American Journal of Pathology 183:576-591.


Public and Technical Abstracts: The Role of the Omental Microenvironment in Ovarian Cancer Metastatic Colonization

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