April 9, 1999 Volume 6, Number 14

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First woman to obtain pathology PhD at U of S leaves valuable research legacy

After 17 years of being a student, Kavitha Advikolanu is heading for the USA. As she packs up the boxes in her apartment, her mind wonders south - toward Indianapolis and new beginnings with her husband, Ramakrishna, who works for Lilly Pharmaceuticals there.

After a long-distance marriage of four years, Kavitha looks forward to their finally being together.

Originally from Bombay, India, Advikolanu recently finished her PhD in pathology at the U of S. She's the first woman to complete her doctorate in pathology in the history of the University.

"My husband has always known how much my career has meant to me. The sacrifice has been worth it. My parents, who still live in India, have always pushed me to follow my dream. I think I get my strength from them," she says.

After receiving her BSc at Bombay University in 1982 and an MSc in anatomical and medicinal chemistry at SNDT Bombay University in 1984, Advikolanu came across the work of U of S pharmacy professor Dr. Jonathon Dimmock on cancer drug research and knew she had to come to Canada to continue her studies.

"When I finished my MSc in pharmacy here in 1990, I became more and more interested in the clinical aspects of research," she recalls.

Dr. Jay Kalra, head of Pathology, says he's proud of what Advikolanu brought to the Department, and Dr. Tony Magliocco, Advikolanu's supervisor, says she came in with a non-medical background and worked very hard to get up to speed and subsequently surpassed all expectations.

An invaluable tool

"She has provided us with one of the largest data bases in western Canada on molecular studies on ovarian carcinoma. It's an invaluable tool for future prognostic studies."

This work, according to Dr. Andrew Lyon, graduate chair, is particularly relevant at this time, because there's an increasing interest in research on cancers that affect women and a building urgency for detecting diagnostic markers for the early stages of ovarian cancer.

It's the fourth leading cause of death in women next to lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

Last year alone, there were more than 14,000 deaths due to ovarian cancer in Canada.

In her dissertation, Advikolanu assessed the value of clinical and molecular markers in predicting patient survival with ovarian carcinomas.

Clinical markers, such as length of survival and length of survival before relapses, were measured in over 200 Saskatchewan women with ovarian carcinomas.

Molecular markers, such as the presence of abnormal DNA cells, lack of DNA, lack of normal DNA, or the over production of P53 protein in the tumors, were related to patient survival.

Results confirmed that, from a clinical perspective, the stage of the disease and the residual disease were the only factors that predict relapse-free survival in women with ovarian cancer.

The survival in all patients was predicted by the lack of residual disease after surgery.

Patients had a poor prognosis when their cancerous tissues were rapidly growing, contained abnormal DNA, or had over-produced the P53 protein.

"Ovarian cancers," Advikolanu concludes, "seem to be either sporadic or hereditary and are associated with general genomic instability and the inheritance of mutated genes."

Over the years, Advikolanu has presented papers at the First Ovarian Cancer Symposium in Europe, Lyon, France; at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, in Halifax ( 1996), and in Toronto ( 1998).

She won the Saskatchewan Cancer Foundation Award for research 1997-98.

With her ticket booked for Illinois, she plans to take a short break before looking for a clinical research position.

- Cassandra Phillips

Dr. Kavitha Advikolanu. Attracted to the U of S upon reading about the clinical work of Professor Jonathon Dimmock.

On Campus News is published by the Office of Communications, University of Saskatchewan.
For further information, visit the web site or contact communications@usask.ca

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