Wayne State receives DOD grant; study may give insight to slow or halt breast cancer

December 23, 2011

DETROIT -- A Wayne State University School of Medicine post-doctoral researcher has secured a significant grant to study the signaling process that triggers a type of breast cancer to transform into an invasive state.

Kingsley Osuala, Ph.D., a post-doctoral trainee in the Department of Pharmacology, has secured a three-year, $450,000 grant from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program for his study, "Paracrine Cytokine/Chemokine Pathways in Progression of Ductal Carcinoma in Situ to Invasive Ductal Carcinoma."

"This is especially exciting as only 22 grants nationally were issued in this category for this fiscal year," said Osuala, who received his doctorate in biomedical science from the University of Central Florida. "This is a major milestone for me because it will be the first grant on which I am listed as principal investigator."

Osuala is investigating the process by which breast cancer moves from a pre-invasive state to an invasive state. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a pre-invasive breast cancer, was the fourth-leading cause of cancer diagnosed in women worldwide in 2010. Communication between the DCIS cells and other surrounding cells is known to accelerate movement to an invasive cancer, but the molecules responsible for the process have not been identified, he said.

The objective of the study, Osuala said, is to evaluate the potential roles of two small proteins that communicate between cells -- the chemokine CCL20 and the cytokine IL-6 -- in the progression of DCIS to an invasive state. Recent data has uncovered a previously unknown mechanism by which cancer cells increase expression of CCL20 and IL-6 to manipulate their environment, rendering them invasive. Thus, CCL20 and IL-6 may be potential targets for new drugs as well as markers that might allow doctors to accurately predict which patients with DCIS are likely to have it progress to invasive tumors, he said.

"By identifying chemokine/cytokine signaling pathways that are critical to breast cancer progression, we should be able to slow or even halt the invasion of breast cancers," he said. "Such an advantage would give clinicians more time to treat and remove breast cancer before it can travel to other organs. This study is unique in that we are evaluating the tumor and other cells in the tumor's microenvironment rather than just the tumor cells alone. This novel approach will provide answers about the way tumors interact with their neighboring cells."

The study, Osuala said, will provide technical insight for future studies in the discovery of biomarkers for early-stage breast cancers and in breast cancer in general.

"Defining new drug targets should give clinicians a new tool for the treatment of breast cancer, potentially increasing the post-diagnosis life expectancy of patients," he said. "Additional benefits of this study include decreased reliance on toxic therapies such as radiotherapy and conventional chemotherapy, and reductions in overtreatment."
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Wayne State University is one of the nation's preeminent public research institutions in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

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