Keith Stantz's Story

Keith Stantz, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Health Sciences
Assistant Professor of Radiology, Indiana University School of Medicine

Eight years ago, imaging scientist Keith Stantz was working for a commercial micro-optics company, designing instrumentation for laser surgeries, such as Lasik, when his sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Once you see it in somebody close to you, it changes your thoughts; it changes your perspective,” says Stantz, who left his job soon after that to study breast cancer imaging techniques with a leader in the field. “It was a wonderful opportunity to make a difference.”

Now an associate professor of health sciences at Purdue, Stantz is focusing not only on breast cancer, but also ovarian cancer — the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women. While many strides have been made in breast cancer detection, treatment and survival, ovarian cancer (which is a rarer form of cancer, often diagnosed in later stages) has seen little improvement in 20 years.

Ovarian cancer typically goes into remission after surgery and chemotherapy, but often returns in a drug-resistant form. Cancer stem cells may be to blame for the recurrence and drug resistance, and Stantz is hoping that a new class of drugs called antiangiogenics can help.

Using his imaging expertise, Stantz is measuring in his lab how antiangiogenic therapy — which inhibits the growth of new blood vessels and lymphatics necessary for tumor growth and metastasis — works to modulate the tumor microenvironment and consequently cancer stem cell subpopulations and their functionality.

Ultimately, he hopes to establish models that show how variations in ovarian cancer stem cells respond differently to current and new classes of antiangiogenic drugs. Those models could help physicians determine dosing regimens and predict which patients may benefit from the therapy, used in conjunction with existing chemotherapy drugs.

“We need some preliminary data to convince a larger agency to support a larger project,” Stantz says. “Funding from PCCR allows us to do that. My hope is that this technology, in correlation with its ability to prescribe treatment, is something we can translate into the clinic in the near future.”