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April 25, 2011 - USA Researchers Awarded NIH Grant to Study Breast Cancer
A research team at the University of South Alabama was recently awarded a five-year, $1.4 million grant by The National Institutes of Health to study mechanisms that lead to abnormal cellular metabolism in cancer cells.

The team, led by Dr. Ming Tan, assistant professor of oncologic sciences and the Vincent F. Kilborn Jr. Cancer Research Scholar at the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute, will also investigate effective strategies against breast cancer by targeting abnormal glucose metabolism in cancer cells.

Dr. Tan, who also holds a joint appointment in the department of cell biology and neuroscience at the USA College of Medicine, said normal cells mostly rely on a process that consumes oxygen and glucose to make energy. “In contrast, cancer cells consume far more glucose than normal cells to maintain sufficient energy supplies,” he said. “Recent studies found that this unique property is an ‘Achilles’ Heel’ for cancer cells.”

Tan said Trastuzumab, also known as Herceptin, shows remarkable efficacy in treatment of breast cancers when used alone or in combination with other traditional drugs. However, acquired resistance develops in most treated patients, necessitating alternate treatment strategies.

According to Dr. Tan, the researchers in this study will investigate the mechanisms that lead to abnormal glucose metabolism in cancer cells and will investigate the antitumor effects of trastuzumab in combination with glycolysis inhibitors in breast cancer. Results from these studies will show how shutting down cancer cell energy supplies can enhance the therapeutic efficacy of trastuzumab in certain breast cancers, which can be useful as a strategy to overcome drug resistance by cancer cells.

“Cancer metabolism has emerged as one of the most exciting areas of cancer research that may open a new therapeutic avenue and may bring new hope for cancer patients,” Dr. Tan said. “The pre-clinical studies of this project may lead to translation into clinical trial and may ultimately benefit many cancer patients in the future.”

To conduct these studies, Dr. Tan’s team will collaborate with other researchers from the USA Mitchell Cancer Institute and the USA College of Medicine. In addition, the research project will include input from scientists around the country, as well as international collaborators from China, Norway, and Switzerland.

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