Nearly 30 percent of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop metastatic disease where the cancer spreads to other parts of the body such as the liver, brain, bones, or lungs.
While there are treatments that can prolong length and quality of life, there is currently no cure for metastatic breast cancer.
At the University of Minnesota, a growing cadre of researchers are aiming to change this outlook. Carol Lange, Ph.D., part of the U’s medicine and pharmacology faculty, is one of them.
With support from Minnesota Masonic Charities, Lange has teamed up with Antonino D’Assoro, M.D., Ph.D., from the Mayo Clinic, to figure out how breast cancer cells escape initial therapies and go on to metastasize throughout the body.
Together, the two have discovered a new pathway between the progesterone receptor and Aurora Kinase A proteins that promotes the expansion of breast cancer stem cells and, ultimately, metastasis.
“Breast cancer stem cells are very long-lived cancer cells that resist chemotherapies and travel throughout the body to eventually initiate new tumors,” Lange explains. “Targeting these dangerous cells will improve cancer therapies by blocking the stem cells themselves.”
The next big steps for Lange and D’Assoro will be to publish their findings and apply for larger grants to continue their research. Eventually, their hope is to partner with others to develop and test therapies that target breast cancer stem cells in people.
“Receiving Masonic support is a huge honor. It provides a great opportunity to pursue somewhat risky research that could lead to new information that saves lives. Even a small project can grow into a large effort with high-impact findings. Knowledge is power. Once we understand how cancer cells metastasize, we will be able to stop them!”