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What might $50,000 help discover?

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Scientists think big, and long term. They measure progress incrementally, knowing that solutions are often years, decades, centuries in the making.

Such dedication can bring society closer to finding cures for cancer, ways to prevent the disease or extend survival.

To that end, the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund of CNY awarded grants of $50,000 each to five research projects at Upstate that just might help find:

A way to identify fracture risks

Breast cancer patients whose disease spreads to bone are at risk for disabling fractures. If there were a reliable method of predicting which bones were most likely to break, surgery could be done to reduce the risk. Orthopedic surgery professors Timothy Damron, MD, and Kenneth Mann, PhD, are testing a way of identifying fracture risks using computerized tomography and a structural stress analysis. The Baldwin grant money will allow them to further verify the sensitivity and specificity of this method.

A means of stemming the spread of breast cancer

Breast cancer becomes deadly when it spreads, so some researchers are focused on impeding tumor cell migration. Assistant professor of urology Dimitra Bourboulia, PhD, explains that tumor cells migrate once a group of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases degrade structural protein barriers. She‘s looking at natural inhibitors to these enzymes, hoping to understand their impact on tumor cell invasion – and come up with a new treatment strategy for metastatic breast cancer.

A route to targeted therapy

Most human cancers evolve from genetic mutations that occur due to gene damage during a person‘s life. One form of damage is chromosomal DNA strand breakage, which cancer cells exploit to rearrange the genome and adopt abnormal behaviors. Wenyi Feng, PhD, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, maps chromosome breaks in breast cancer cell lines using a novel technology called Break-seq. If proven sensitive enough, the technique could ultimately be used to help doctors prescribe targeted therapy.

A deeper understanding of cell division

Heidi Hehnly, PhD, an assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, studies mitotic cell division, in which a cell splits into two genetically identical “daughter” cells. This process relies heavily on an enzyme to segregate the chromosomes into the two cells. Defects in this process lead to the progression of cancers. Hehnly‘s lab is working to understand exactly how.

A safer way to deliver medication

Not all medications have the ability to cross into the brain from the bloodstream, but a cancer drug called cabazitaxel does. It was developed for use when other drugs stop working, so it holds promise for treating cancers and brain metastases, such as breast cancer that has spread to the brain. The problem is, the drug harms other organs with which it comes into contact. That‘s why Juntao Luo, PhD, an assistant professor of pharmacology, and Vivian Gahtan, MD, the division chief of vascular surgery and endovascular services, will study whether a nanocarrier delivery system developed in their lab can safely transport cabazitaxel into the brain to treat breast cancer brain metastases, while sparing healthy tissue.

Fall 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazineThis article appears in the fall 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.