Research projects at Auburn get funding boost from Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama

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Research projects across Alabama, including three at Auburn University, will benefit from more than $1.2 million in funding from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama.

Using money from donations, government and sales of specialty license plates, the foundation will administer grants to 20 breast cancer research projects at Auburn, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of South Alabama, University of Alabama, CerFlux, Southern Research and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

“As the largest Alabama-based funder of breast cancer research across the state, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama has seen the undeniable power of research in accelerating the progress of treatments and outcomes for patients facing the disease,” said Beth Bradner Davis, the foundation’s executive director. “We are proud that this historic investment—our largest ever—will continue to fuel breakthroughs and advance our mission to save lives.”

Foundation dollars often function as “seed” funding for developing studies, allowing researchers to generate data needed to attract major national funding. Many foundation-funded projects have later received national grants from the National Institute of Health and others.

The projects receiving foundation funding at Auburn are as follows:

Integrating bioengineering tools, genome-wide genetic screens and in vivo models to discover new determinants of triple negative breast cancer cell invasion

Panagiotis Mistriotis, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, is the principal investigator on the project with Assistant Professor Amit Mitra and Professor Robert Arnold from the Harrison School of Pharmacy’s Department of Drug Discovery and Development.

The goal is to identify novel determinants associated with the migration and metastatic potential of triple-negative human breast cancer cells. Mistriotis has developed a microfluidic platform that can be used as a mimetic of capillary beds that can be used to gain insights into the effect of various physicochemical and mechanical stresses on the metastatic potential of tumor cells. Using this system, he has shown that differences in pressure influence the migration of triple-negative breast cancer.

Mitra will seek to apply -omics-based approaches to identify molecular mechanisms responsible for this observation, and Arnold will investigate its effect on metastatic spread using an established in vivo model.

Improving breast cancer survival in Alabama—The role of medications

Jingjing Qian, an associate professor in pharmacy’s Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy, claims evidence has shown that a few medications, including selective estrogen receptor modulators, such as tamoxifen and raloxifene, and aromatase inhibitors, such as anastrozole and exemestane, might help lower breast cancer risk, especially for women who are at high risk.

However, potential disparities in utilization of these medication treatments exist between Alabamian women and women in other geographic regions. This study analyzes existing data to understand whether and how the use of these medication treatments might impact overall survival among women with breast cancer in Alabama.

A novel β-Catenin blocker that activates antitumor immunity for breast cancer

Gary Piazza, the head of the Department of Drug Discovery and Development and the W.W. Walker Professor, is collaborating with Don Buchsbaum, professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, or UAB, and senior scientist at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, on this project.

Funding will establish a new research collaboration between Auburn and UAB to determine efficacy of an experimental anticancer compound, ADT-030, for the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer using a high aggressive mouse model of metastasis.

ADT-030 acts by a novel mechanism to inhibit an enzyme, phosphodiesterase 10A, that drives Wnt/β-catenin transcription of proteins essential for cancer cell proliferation and survival. The research will also determine if ADT-030 can activate mechanisms of antitumor immunity to enhance or broaden chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

Assisting Piazza and Buchsbaum as co-principal investigators are colleagues from Auburn’s Department of Drug Discovery and Development: Yulia Maxuitenko, associate research professor; Adam Keeton, assistant research professor; and Xi Chen, assistant research professor; as well as Jeremy Foote, assistant professor of microbiology at UAB.

“By funding critical early-stage projects, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama is driving local discoveries that have a critical impact on breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment in the state of Alabama and beyond,” said Dr. Barry P. Sleckman, director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB.

This year’s grant awards increase the foundation’s lifetime investment to over $12 million since 1996.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.