Imagine being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, one where your chances of dying are much higher than your chances of survival. Now imagine finding the one location that promises true hope, one that actively researches the disease and uses that knowledge — to treat your illness.

Such is the life of many Magee patients stricken with various cancers and diseases. Magee-Womens Research Institute is at the forefront of studying women’s health, and knowledge gained within its walls is quickly put into practice at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, which has earned a reputation for outstanding treatment.

2017 was an excellent year for MWRI across the board, with progress in life-changing research, community engagement, and even numerous awards from industry insiders.

Progress in Life-Changing Research

Liquid Biopsies

In the interest of better diagnosing and isolating diseases in patients, MWRI is focused on cutting-edge treatments. A MWRI collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh, Duke University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, and Nanyang Technological University resulted in a prototype for biopsiesliquid biopsies, to be precise.

This exciting piece of technology uses acoustic and microfluid technologies to examine exosomes—blood nanoparticles—in order to examine organs doctors don’t have easy access to. This means, for example, that gynecologists can study diseases within the ovaries without requiring invasive surgery. Liquid biopsies promise greater comfort for patients, quicker results for their doctors, and potentially faster and more precise treatment methods.

Pregnancies And Vesicles

In a similar project funded by the National Institutes of Health, MWRI researchers are studying the size, rigidity, and viscosity of vesicles (air-filled cavities or sacs) that move from the placenta into the mother’s blood stream during pregnancy.

By understanding these vesicles, researchers hypothesize they’ll gain new approaches to diagnosing disease and providing therapeutic treatments.

HIV Prevention

MWRI researchers also made major strides in the prevention of HIV, a disease that affects nearly 37 million people globally, with the Dapivirine vaginal ring. The ring proved safe in minors and women ages 18-45 in major drug trials involving four African countries—locations with a high need for prevention methods. Additional research in 2017 determined only trace amounts of the drug is released into breast milk while the ring is in use, suggesting the ring may be safe for nursing mothers to use while breastfeeding.

Ovarian Cancer

MWRI has long focused on overcoming ovarian cancer through research and new treatment methods. In another collaborative research project earlier in the year, MWRI researchers found the estrogen treatments commonly used for breast cancer patients may also benefit patients battling ovarian cancer. This knowledge could lead to improved, customized treatment methods for patients at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC and elsewhere.

Naturally, these researchers plan to investigate further to determine whether estrogen is a viable method of treating ovarian cancer in a comprehensive treatment plan.

Developments in The Community

Women in STEM

In late 2017, MWRI hosted a group of young women through the Carnegie Science Center to teach them about the myriad options for women in STEM fields, opening their eyes to new career paths. Many of the young women saw for the first time that it’s possible to have an incredible impact in the medical field without working in an office treating patients.

Over the summer, select high school and college students were accepted into the MWRI internship program, where they were paired with MWRI investigators. This gave them a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a real researcher, while allowing them to have a true impact in the scientific process. Since they were at MWRI, they had access to a collection of researchers, tools, and experiments they couldn’t have found anywhere else! “It was very rewarding for me to work with such bright young students,” said MWRI primary investigator Dr. Mellissa Mann. “This generation’s enthusiasm for basic research, women’s health, and reproductive biology is critical to the future contribution to scientific discovery.”

Community Growth And Education

As usual, MWRI continued its weekly seminars to continue educating the public and scientific community on scientific breakthroughs occurring at MWRI and other leading institutions. 2017 saw a wide range of “Work in Progress” sessions, including “Is Too Much Sitting A New Behavioral Risk Factor in Pregnancy?” and “The Neural Mechanisms of Social Bonding, Empathy and Social Loss: Implications for Autism.”

Of course, MWRI also held research retreats and research days to take a deep dive into the wealth of new data generated by MWRI’s researchers.

Trust from Industry Leaders

Thanks to MWRI’s consistent progress,the Foundation and the researchers garnered a number of grants and major donations from organizations around the world entrusting MWRI to continue its good work. Here are a few examples of that generous support and recognition.

Breast Cancer Research Awards: $260,000 

Early last year, Dr. Steffi Oesterreich received the $100,000 Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Leadership Award from the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network. Dr. Oesterreich received the award in part because of her research with Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer, an understudied subtype of breast cancer despite being the second most common.

Around the same time, A Glimmer of Hope awarded Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC a $160,000 donation, making the organization’s total donations more than $2 million since 1999. The funds are earmarked to benefit breast cancer patients in the Pittsburgh area through Magee’s initiatives.

HIV Research Grant: $1.8 Million
Dr. Charlene Dezzutti received a 4-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), thanks to her investigation into the factors of HIV acquisition risk in adolescent girls. The enormous grant will fund her continued work in this

Protecting and Training the Next Generation: $2.15 Million

Dr. Kyle Orwig received two grants from the NICHD: a 5-year, $1.05 million training grant entitled “Reproductive Development from Gonads to Fetuses” to fund MWRI’s efforts with graduate and postdoctoral scholars, and a 3-year, $1.1 million grant entitled “Improving Fertility Preservation in Boys with Cancer.”

Ovarian Research Grant: $3 Million

In the second half of 2017, MWRI received a generous $3 million grant from the Eden Hall Foundation. The grant’s purpose: to establish the Comprehensive Ovarian Biology Research Center at MWRI and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC graciously matched the grant, generating $6 million overall. The center will aid researchers in studying hormone production, fertility, menopausal changes, and overall ovarian health.

Make an Impact in 2018

Magee is able to change lives because of the grants it receives and the generous donations that are sent in throughout the year. Help us continue our mission by donating today! Every donation—no matter how small—improves our research, equipment, outreach, and quality of care for our patients.