Most breast cancer treatments fail to kill the small number of cancer stem cells that exist within the tumor. Consequently, those breast cancer stem cells can grow and multiply, resulting in additional tumors, both at the original site and in other areas of the body.
Led by Robert Floyd, Ph.D., OMRF scientists are studying a new method that may inhibit those cells’ ability to grow and spread. Floyd recently received a grant from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs to fund the work for one year. His grant was one of only 86 awarded out of 1,546 applicants.
The project involves using a compound that Floyd and OMRF colleague Rheal Towner, Ph.D., developed for treating glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer.
The OMRF research team found that by targeting a specific enzyme on the outer covering of breast cancer stem cells with the compound, they were able to interfere with the cell-to-cell signaling that encourages cells to multiply and metastasize.
“We tried the compound in breast cancer because of the similarities in the outer coating of brain cancer and breast cancer cells,” said Floyd, who holds the Merrick Foundation Chair in Aging Research at OMRF. “So far it seems to work in the same way in both forms of cancer, so our basic premise appears to be true.”
With the Department of Defense funding, the researchers will study the compound’s effectiveness in treating mice bred to develop breast cancer.
“This grant will allow us to continue our work on this promising project,” said Floyd. “No one has looked at blocking cancers by this method, so we’re excited to move ahead with this work that we hope will help stop a devastating disease.”
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women. The ACS predicts that 192,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.