The UBC Division of Gynecologic Research Award is an annual award of up to $20,000 in support of research on gynecologic cancers. These grants are for up to $20,000, are one time only (i.e. non-renewable), and are designed to provide critical review, with rapid turn-around and constructive feedback, and funding for proposals that would not be eligible to receive funding at the national level.

Dr. Karolin Heinze is one of the grant recipients for the 2020/21 Division of Gynecologic Oncology Research Awards.

As a child, Dr. Karolin Heinze thought she wanted to be a doctor. Now, although never having gone to medical school, she has found work in the medical field, which she finds fulfilling as she is still able to help better patients’ lives. 

Dr. Heinze has an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, which she describes as the “study of the underlying processes or mechanism of the body, or the chemistry of living things.” At the end of her undergrad, she realized her experiences and aspirations were still leaning towards the medical field. So, she then went on to study her master’s in Molecular Medicine and specialized in oncology and molecular gynaecology. After her PhD, Karolin wanted to focus on a rarer, less studied ovarian cancer, where she felt her efforts would be more helpful. 

“I had a personal interest in [ovarian cancer research] and definitely saw a need there, but also there was a bit of chance,” says Dr. Heinze upon reflecting on her education and career trajectory. 

Study Proposal: Early Detection of Endometriosis Related Ovarian Cancer Through Bodily Fluids — Proof of Principal Study  

Endometriosis, a benign disease affecting the reproductive system’s tissue, affects 10% of the ovarian having population. It is correlated with two subtypes of ovarian cancer. Presently, there is no way to confirm the presence of ovarian cancer without an invasive procedure; even though ovarian cancer is the 5th most cancer for women [1] and has only a 45% survival rate in the first 5 years [2].

Dr. Heinze has proposed that both endometriosis and related ovarian cancer have cancer causing mutations of the tissue in common, which may shed and could be found in the surrounding endometriotic peritoneal fluid — a lubricating fluid that exists in the abdominal body cavity. This could lead to a new biomarker to detect the presence of ovarian cancer among women with endometriosis. 

If Dr. Heinze’s theory is correct, the long-term goal is to create a new, routine screening for those with a higher risk, much like regular mammograms are recommended for those at higher risk of breast cancer. Additionally, her research could lead to a less invasive, more accessible means of detecting endometriosis-related ovarian cancer. Patients would no longer have to have invasive surgery to collect the fluid but instead a simple procedure that could take place at an OBGYN clinic.   

Stay tuned to learn more about the other research award recipient, Dr. Emily Thompson.