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Stuart S. Martin, Ph.D., a breast cancer researcher at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, has received the prestigious Era of Hope Scholar Award from the U.S. Department of Defense. The five-year, $3.5 million grant will be used to establish an international consortium to study tumor cells that break away from primary cancers and circulate in the bloodstream.
Working together with Dr. Josef Kas, of the University of Leipzig, Germany and Dr. Wolfgang Losert of the University of Maryland-College Park Department of Physics, the research team is introducing a new instrument to the United States that will use laser light to measure the flexibility of circulating breast tumor cells.
“Through the work of this consortium, which will be made up of physicists, engineers, cell biologists and breast cancer doctors, we hope to improve our ability to tailor the therapies of individual breast cancer patients to reduce the ability of circulating tumor cells to spread cancer to other parts of the body,” Dr. Martin says.
Dr. Martin’s research has focused on the “cytoskeleton” of breast cancer cells, in particular, “microtentacles” on circulating tumor cells, which appear to play a critical role in how the cancer metastasizes, or spreads. These microtentacles are filament-like extensions of the cell’s plasma membrane.
“Our research team aims to reduce breast cancer metastasis by developing novel therapies and improving the use of existing cancer drugs to target circulating tumor cells,” he says.
Dr. Martin was one of three investigators nationwide to receive the Era of Hope Scholar award in 2010, which is given to exceptionally talented scientists who have high potential for innovation in breast cancer research early in their careers and who have demonstrated that they are the “best and the brightest” in their fields “through extraordinary creativity, vision and productivity.”
“These individuals should challenge current dogma and demonstrate an ability to look beyond tradition and convention,” the Department of Defense says.
“Stuart Martin is an exceptional scientist and most deserving of this award. His research into the complex nature of breast cancer cells has already helped us gain new insight into how cancer metastasizes, which is the biggest challenge we have in treating patients with cancer,” says Kevin J. Cullen, M.D., director of the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.