Doris Benbrook, PhD

Presbyterian Health Foundation Presidential Professor in Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Stephenson Cancer Center, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

1998 Cancer Research Grant Recipient

Dr. Doris Benbrook is a Presbyterian Health Foundation Presidential Professor in Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Stephenson Cancer Center, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She received her PhD in biochemistry in 1985 from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, IL. Her postdoctoral training in nuclear receptors and transcription factors was conducted at the Burnham Institute in California and the Cancer Research Center in London, UK. Since establishing her own laboratory, her research has focused on the development of drugs for the prevention and treatment of gynecologic cancers as well as other cancers and diseases. As an Assistant Professor, Dr. Benbrook received much needed funding from TMKF in 1998 for a project on the development of retinoids and response biomarkers for ovarian cancer, which was a critical stepping stone needed to bring her burgeoning research program to the national level.

In collaboration with a chemist, Dr. Benbrook developed synthetic versions of retinoids that were more effective and less toxic than natural retinoids. The TMKF funding provided her with the equipment and resources needed to test the lead synthetic retinoids, heteroarotinoids (Hets), in 3D organotypic cultures of ovarian cancer, established in her laboratory, which led to the discovery that some Hets were not retinoids, but instead worked independently of retinoid receptors. She and her team also discovered that these Hets could inhibit ovarian cancer independently of retinoid receptors and retinoid side effects. Using the data generated from the TMKF grant, she was able to obtain her first R01 grant to study how the lead Het, SHetA2, works to inhibit ovarian cancer without causing toxicity. The findings were published in the prestigious Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

As a result of the dogged determination and incredible progress that she and her team have made over the years on their lead candidate, Dr. Benbrook is initiating a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-supported first-in-human clinical trial of SHetA2. In the process of bringing a drug from concept through clinical trials, she has gained invaluable experience in recruiting and leading multi-disciplinary teams with the expertise needed to take the research from its current stage in the translational research pipeline to the next level as well as securing funding to support her work. She enjoys sharing the knowledge gained throughout this process by teaching and mentoring the next generation of scientists. Her mentoring success has been recognized by the Oklahoma Shared Clinical and Translational Resources, who named her a Master Mentor. In addition, her expertise and accomplishments are recognized at national and international levels through her service as chair and member of multiple national scientific review committees and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Biologics: Targets & Therapy, permanent member of the NCI Subcommittee A: Cancer Centers, and co-Leader of the GYN Target Group of the NCI PREVENT MW Clinical Prevention Trials Network.

“In the grand scheme of things, The Mary Kay [Ash] Foundation award provided me with the capability to complete a critical step needed to bring a drug from concept through clinical trial.”

Doris Benbrook, PhD