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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 8, 2004
Contact: Karen Warmkessel kwarmkessel@umm.edu 410-328-8919

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND RESEARCHERS TO TAKE PART IN FEDERALLY FUNDED STUDY OF METASTATIC BREAST CANCER

$10 million grant brings together national experts to find new ways to halt cancer spread

Researchers at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center will collaborate with breast cancer experts at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Genzyme Biotechnology to study new ways to halt the spread, or metastasis, of the cancer.

The research will be funded by a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center to establish a Center of Excellence. Saraswati Sukumar, Ph.D., a professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, is the principal investigator.

“New technologies and the revolution in gene science have jumpstarted our understanding of how breast cancer cells spread,” Dr. Sukumar says. “Now, we are pooling our knowledge and resources to solve important problems plaguing every cancer patient of whether their disease will return and how to fight the spreading disease.”

“We will try to identify genes that aid the spread of the cancer and then develop novel therapies to target them,” says Angela H. Brodie, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who will focus on developing new therapies. “This is an extremely important area of study, which may well hold the key to finding a cure for breast cancer.”

Working with Dr. Brodie will be Edward A. Sausville, M.D., Ph.D., associate director for clinical research at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center and professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Vincent Njar, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Breast cancer survivors will actively participate in project development, oversight and dissemination of program goals and research results. Dr. Sukumar will screen metastatic tumors for key molecular signatures that distinguish them from non-metastatic cells, a key step in developing drug therapies to prevent those cells from taking root in other parts of the body.

Dr. Brodie and the other University of Maryland researchers will focus on designing new therapies using molecular modeling and high throughput screening technology to identify promising new compounds that interact with the molecules discovered by Dr. Sukumar and M.D. Anderson’s Renata Pasqualini, Ph.D., professor of cancer biology and medicine.

“A major problem with all tumors is that they can devise ways to survive the treatment that patients receive. They can adapt and grow even during the therapy,” Dr. Brodie says. “Our strength is in new drug development for breast cancer, targeting those elements that cause or stimulate the growth of tumors.”

Her research has involved the discovery and development of a new class of drugs known as aromatase inhibitors, which help to prevent recurrence of breast cancer in post-menopausal women by reducing the level of estrogen produced by the body. According to Dr. Brodie, these inhibitors are proving to be more effective than the standard breast cancer drug, tamoxifen.

The Department of Defense began its cancer program in 1994 with $100 million in grants for breast cancer research. It also has funded cancer research programs in prostate, ovarian, brain, leukemia and lymphoma.

The grant is the latest example of collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, representing Maryland’s two academic medical centers. Both institutions are conducting other cancer research funded by the state’s Cigarette Restitution Fund Program.

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This page was last updated on: January 25, 2007.