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Huntsman Cancer Institute Receives $1MM Funding to Study Triple Negative Breast Cancer

SALT LAKE CITY— A team of researchers from Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) will receive more than $1 million over the next three years from a Department of Defense grant to investigate the cellular controls that contribute to breast cancer metastasis.

"Metastasis, or when cancer spreads from its original site, is the primary cause of death from breast cancer," said Don Ayer, Ph.D., the study's principal investigator. Ayer is an HCI investigator and a professor of oncological sciences at the U of U. "Yet the key drivers of metastasis within cells are not completely understood."

The study will focus on triple negative breast cancers (TNBCs) because they have poor outcomes and no targeted therapies are currently available. Approximately 10%-20% of breast cancers are diagnosed as TNBC. These cancers do not respond to hormone receptor therapy as do those that test positive for estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2/neu hormones in pathology testing.

Previous published work from the Ayer lab has shown that a complex of genes called the MondoA-TXNIP checkpoint works within cells to provide a protective response when acid levels get too high. In breast cancer cells where the complex is not active, they found a poor prognosis and increased metastasis. This suggests MondoA-TXNIP may have a role in the growth and spread of tumors.

"Our studies will provide important insights into how cells sense and respond to changes in acid levels and into how loss of acid-level controls contribute to metastasis," said Ayer. "We believe that ultimately our studies will allow development of new targeted therapies that can restrict metastasis in TNBC."

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The U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity, 820 Chandler Street, Fort Detrick MD 21701-5014 is the awarding and administering acquisition office.

About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is one of the world's top academic research and cancer treatment centers. HCI manages the Utah Population Database — the largest genetic database in the world, with more than 16 million records linked to genealogies, health records, and vital statistics. Using this data, HCI researchers have identified cancer-causing genes, including the genes responsible for melanoma, colon and breast cancer, and paraganglioma. HCI is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (a 23-member alliance of the world's leading cancer centers) and is a National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers. The HCI Cancer Learning Center for patient and public education contains one of the nation's largest collections of cancer-related publications. The institute is named after Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., a Utah philanthropist, industrialist, and cancer survivor.