MD Anderson Cancer Center

Houston, Texas
Vice President for Translational Research, Internist and Professor of Medicine, Harry Carothers Wiess Distinguished University Chair for Cancer Research, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Improving early detection techniques is important for many types of cancer, but it is especially important for ovarian cancer, as it is likely the most effective way to achieve a cure. In fact, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is above 90% if found during the earliest stage. Unfortunately, only 15% of cases are diagnosed at this stage, making ovarian cancer a notorious “silent killer”. Throughout his entire career, Dr. Bast has been working to change that.

Dr. Bast is best known for developing the OC125 (CA125) monoclonal antibody in 1981 that led to the production of the CA125 radioimmunoassay – the first useful biomarker for monitoring the course of patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. Since this discovery, Dr. Bast and his team have been evaluating ways CA125 can be used to screen for ovarian cancer. For example, results from a large clinical trial involving 200,000 women in the United Kingdom showed that Dr. Bast’s “two-step” approach for the early detection of ovarian cancer – using CA125 detection and sonography – effectively reduces fatalities by 20%.

Dr. Bast is currently testing a panel of biomarkers (that include CA125 plus six autoantibodies) to see if it is more sensitive than using the CA125 biomarker alone. This has the potential to produce an even more sensitive early detection screening tool.


Robert C. Bast, Jr., M.D., received his B.A. from Wesleyan University and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He completed a medical internship at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and then served as a research associate at the National Cancer Institute. After Dr. Bast completed a medical residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and a fellowship in Medical Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, he joined the faculty at Harvard and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Bast joined the Duke University Medical Center in 1984 and, ten years later, Dr. Bast was recruited to head the Division of Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. In 2000, Dr. Bast was appointed Vice President for Translational Research at MD Anderson Cancer Center and, in 2004, he became the Harry Carothers Wiess Distinguished University Professor for Cancer Research.

Dr. Bast is a member and/or fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association for Cancer Research, the Association of American Physicians, the American Association of Immunologists, the American Clinical and Climatological Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Federation for Clinical Research, the American Society for Microbiology, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society of Hematology, the Clinical Immunology Society, the International Gynecological Cancer Society, the International Society for Immunopharmacology, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, the Society for Biological Therapy, the T. J. Martell Foundation, the V Foundation, the Reticuloendothelial Society and the American Society for Clinical Investigation.

Throughout his career, Dr. Bast has received numerous honors and awards, including the 1971 Henry Asbury Christian Award from Harvard Medical School, the 1990 Robert C. Knapp Award, the 1994 Award for Scientific Excellence from the Mediterranean Society of Tumor Marker Oncology, the 1996 SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories Award from the Clinical Ligand Assay Society, the 1998 Partners in Courage Award of Achievement from the American Cancer Society, the 2001 ISOBM-Abbott Award from the International Society for Oncodevelopmental Biology and Medicine, the 2006 Award for Excellence in Gynecologic Oncology from the International Gynecologic Cancer Society, the 2007 Outstanding Leadership Award from the National Cancer Institute, the 2008 Rosalind Franklin Award for Excellence in Ovarian Cancer Research from the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, the 2011 Hero Award from Cattlemen for Cancer Research, the 2011 Emil Frei, III Award for Excellence in Translational Research from MD Anderson Cancer Center, the 2013 Claudia Cohen Award from the Gynecological Cancer Foundation and the 2014 ShashikantLele Lecture award from Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

He is also the recipient of various lectureships, including the 1987 Edward G. Waters Memorial Lecture, the 1991 D. Nelson Henderson Lecture at the University of Toronto, the 1991 John Ohtani Memorial Lecture at the University of Hawaii, the 1992 Stolte Memorial Lecture at the Free University of Amsterdam, the 1993 Master Lecturer at CA125 Ten Years Later, the 1993 Arnold O. Beckman Distinguished Lecture for the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, the 1996 Robert C. Knapp Lecture at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the 1997 AlonDembo Memorial Keynote Lecture for the International Gynecologic Cancer Society, the 2000 George D. Wilbanks Lecture at the University of South Florida, the 2002 Lecture at the International Society for Oncodevelopmental Biology and Medicine, the 2002 Lecture at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center Symposium at the University of California, the 2006 Richard W. TeLinde Lecture at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the 2008 American Cancer Society Lecture for the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists.

Dr. Bast has published more than 500 articles and chapters, and has edited the textbook Cancer Medicine. Moreover, since 2003, he has been recognized by the Institute for Scientific Informal as one of the most frequently cited scientists in his field. Dr. Bast continues to care for patients with breast and ovarian cancers and has been listed in the Best Doctors of America since 1992 and in America’s Top Physicians since 2003.

Areas of Focus

Cancer Types

Years of NFCR Funding

2001– 2018

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Phase II Clinical Trials May Be on the Way for Ovarian Cancer

Dubbed one of the notorious ‘silent killers’, ovarian cancer claims the lives of approximately 14,000 American women each year. Tragically, all women are at risk and early detection and sustainable treatment have proved to be difficult. However, a recent study provides new hope in the realm of ovarian cancer treatment. Women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are commonly prescribed two chemotherapy drugs: paclitaxel and carboplatin. When a patient’s body resists these drugs, she is left with few options for continued ovarian cancer treatment. For those who do not experience initial resistance, the looming threat of recurrence suggests future difficulties. Thankfully, the ominous outlook for ovarian cancer treatment is looking brighter thanks to physician-scientist Robert C Bast, Jr, MD., and his past support from the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR).  Acknowledging early funding from the NFCR, Dr. Bast has recently published his research results that provide substantial hope for women undergoing ovarian cancer treatment. In this study Dr. Bast explains that while carboplatin and paclitaxel can be a strong first-line treatment for ovarian cancer, the drugs are curing less than 20% of advanced stage ovarian cancer. However, a small molecule inhibitor can improve the response to paclitaxel in ovarian cancer cells and complex models during the pre-clinical research and the combined treatment is being used now in a Phase I trial for ovarian cancer. In the current paper, the research team discovered that the inhibitor increased carboplatin’s ability to induce DNA-damage and apoptosis (cell suicide), simply meaning the drug’s ability to kill cancerous cells improved. Dr. Bast continues to explain that discovering the impact of the molecular inhibitor on carboplatin provides an exciting outlook for upcoming clinical trials for ovarian cancer treatment. If the ongoing Phase I trial treating ovarian cancer patients with the combination of paclitaxel and the inhibitor goes well, a Phase I/II trial may be initiated using the molecule inhibitor and carboplatin. This exciting discovery suggests that women undergoing ovarian cancer treatment may have a more promising outlook, especially those who experience resistance to carboplatin and paclitaxel or have a recurrence of ovarian cancer. NFCR continues to support world leaders in ovarian cancer research. Amongst these current and past funded scientists are Dr. Danny Welch, Dr. Wei Zhang, Dr. Susan Horwitz, Dr. Amos B. Smith III, and Dr. Harold F. Dvorak. Each dedicated NFCR-funded researcher is committed to game-changing discoveries in cancer treatments, detection, and ultimately, a cure. Visit National Foundation for Cancer Research to learn how you can play a role in supporting world leaders in cancer research. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: Genetic Cues to Ovarian Cancer Explored The Development of Better Ovarian Cancer Biomarkers 5 Warning Signs Women Shouldn’t Ignore Stay connected with us! Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips and more. Sign up here. 

We Are Stronger Than the Cancer: Maria’s Story

Maria Gonzales was no stranger to cancer by the time she was diagnosed in 2008. She had watched the disease affect many of her family members, from her mother and her grandmothers to her aunts and cousins. Despite seeing her loved ones battle cancer in various forms, her diagnosis came as an absolute surprise. “When the doctors said that I had cancer, I thought they were wrong – I was too young,” Maria said. A few months before her diagnosis, Maria was packing up her classroom from one school and settling into a new one. She eagerly welcomed this exciting change to her career, but the young teacher was experiencing a bit of stress and anxiety related to the move. Amidst her move, Maria began feeling extremely fatigued as well as noticing a reoccurring stint of lower back pain. “I attributed the fatigue and lower back pain to moving schools,” Maria began. “I was packing and moving boxes and feeling very stressed. I also had irregular periods and pain in the pelvic area. Then I became so bloated it looked like I was pregnant.” Realizing that something may not be right in her body, Maria met with a doctor. She went through many blood tests in search of an answer, but the tests were not revealing anything helpful. Finally, she was scheduled for a CT scan. The CT scan showed that Maria had a large mass from her ovaries to her spleen, thus spearheading her journey with cancer. “I had to have emergency surgery, which determined I had stage 3C ovarian cancer,” Maria shared. “I then had to have chemotherapy and I had anaphylactic shock from the first drug.” After changing medications, Maria continued receiving chemotherapy for approximately six months. During her treatment, Maria experienced a range of uncomfortable side effects, including the infamous nausea and vomiting. Though she expected side effects all along, Maria was quite surprised by the nature of the effects she experienced. “People think that every cancer patient looks the same, but we don’t,” Maria said. “I never lost my hair. I never expected to experience anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, fatigue or chemo brain. Cancer doesn’t have a face; it can happen to anyone and not everyone reacts the same way.” Once Maria finished her chemotherapy, she was declared NED – no evidence of disease. The excitement of this news was short-lived, as she soon learned that ovarian cancer was a chronic disease. Maria went on to have five reoccurrences. She continues maintenance treatment every four weeks and visits her doctor every eight weeks.  “Just because the treatment is over doesn’t mean the journey with cancer is over,” Maria reflected.  “The battle might not be physical, but it becomes mental.” Though every step of her journey with cancer sparked new and often unexpected challenges, Maria continuously adjusted to new ways of coping. For Maria, faith, hope, prayer, and the support of her loved ones got her through even the darkest moment. She learned to accept asking for help but, more importantly, she learned that her friends and family were always willing to provide that help. “It’s really important […]