Young Woman Donates Tissue Samples to Break Down Rare Women’s Cancers

Justin Mattioli and his late wife Eileen

For Justin Mattioli, describing his wife Eileen brings about fond memories of her caring nature both as a mother and Emergency Nurse. Taking care of others was second nature to her. “She was just an awesome person all around,” says Justin. “She loved being a mom most of all.”

Eileen began experiencing abdominal pain and was initially diagnosed with an ovarian cyst. It grew exponentially, causing even more pain, and was eventually removed through surgery and sent for a biopsy.

Three days after her surgery, Eileen found herself in pain once again. It was around that time she also received the results of her biopsy. It was a diagnosis she and Justin never expected: small cell carcinoma of the ovary, hypercalcemic type (SCCOHT).

In May 2019, at 34 years old, Eileen sadly passed away from this rare and highly aggressive type of cancer. Prior to her passing Eileen generously made the decision to donate her tissue samples to help advance research and find new treatments for other women facing the disease.

“We would hate to see someone else going through what Eileen did,” says Justin. “And there is a good possibility that this may help advance further research into other types of cancers as well.”

Justin has also generously fundraised for the cause, having had t-shirts made with a special message in Eileen’s honour, which were sold to family and friends to support SCCOHT research.

“Eileen was a ‘powder hound’—she loved being outside up in the mountains,” he says. “We had t-shirts made that said ‘I’d rather be in the mountains’ to honour her love of the outdoors. We knew she’d rather be in the mountains than in a hospital bed.”

Discovery Offers New Possibilities for Young Women Diagnosed with Rare Form of Ovarian Cancer

A finding by BC Cancer researchers offers possibilities for a new treatment for young women who are diagnosed with SCCOHT, which is a particularly devastating cancer that has no effective treatments.

In a recent study published in Clinical Cancer Research, the team described finding a metabolic vulnerability present in cells from this particular cancer, preventing them from getting the nutrients they need to survive.

“Finding this metabolic vulnerability and identifying a way to exploit it could have a huge impact on women diagnosed with this rare disease,” said Jennifer Ji, MD/PhD candidate at UBC’s faculty of medicine and trainee at the BC Cancer Research Institute and the study’s first author. The team has validated this treatment in pre-clinical studies and now want to test their findings in clinical trials.

This discovery is welcome news to Justin Mattioli as Eileen’s tissue samples were used to create a model that could be used for the combination drug testing to see what is most effective, bringing immense hope to young women who may face the disease.

Read this article on the BC Cancer Foundation’s Breakthrough Magazine, Fall 2020 by clicking here