The month of October is more than just Halloween, costumes and candy. It is also known for breast cancer awareness month. This month is used to increase awareness of the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. In 2016, an estimated 308,000 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in Women among the U.S. Fortunately, the mortality rate for breast cancer patients has been dropping over the last two decades, but the risk of breast cancer continues to increase with age. These decreases are thought to be the result of advancements in research focused on treatment and early detection through better screening. The Buck is doing its part in spreading awareness by looking into what advancements have occurred this year to prevent, treat and manage breast cancer.


Breast cancer incidence increases with age. (source: Wikipedia)


The American Cancer Society is currently funding a number of scientists who are investigating different aspects of breast cancer research in hopes of saving lives.

Dr. Nikki Cheng at the University of Kansas Medical Center is looking into mechanisms responsible for invasive breast cancer. Particularly, she is studying whether a protein her lab discovered, called CCL2, plays a function in breast cancer progression and relapse. Dr. Cheng and her group showed that CCL2, a chemokine that regulates immune cell migration, plays an important role in breast cancer signaling, and they have observed that it enhances cell migration in mouse and human breast cancer cells. Since CCL2 regulates both motility and survival, targeting this pathway may potentially be effective towards stopping breast cancer progression and metastatic diseases. Dr. Cheng hopes this research will lead to new effective strategies for diagnosing and treating invasive breast cancer.

Dr. Todd Miller at Darthmouth College is researching the constant problem of anti-estrogen resistance in women with estrogen-receptor – positive (ER+) breast cancer. About 80% of all breast cancers are ER+, which means cancer cells grow in response to the hormone estrogen. Dr. Miller is currently looking into the effects of tumors being simultaneously exposed to two types of drugs: anti-estrogens (tamoxifen) and P13K inhibitors. These two drugs both block cell signaling pathways that fuel breast cancer growth, but in different ways. Dr. Miller’s research has shown that this drug combination halts the growth or ER+ breast cancer cells in mice and causes tumors to shrink after one week of treatment. This study looked into a novel P13K/mTOR dual inhibitor, P7170. He used a panel of anti-estrogen-sensitive and ER+ resistant breast cancer models. He observed that the dual inhibitor P7170 induced apoptosis as well potently inhibited mTOR and P13K, two protein kinases known to be involved in cell growth and proliferation. In some cell lines he saw complete inhibition of tumor growth and suppression of tumor cell proliferation. Overall, he concluded that P7170 inhibits mTOR and P13K in ER+/HER2 human breast cancer cells and tumors ex vivo as well as in vivo. He believes his findings will help develop a more effective way to use these medicines to treat metastatic ER+ breast cancer.


The Buck’s Drs. Christopher Benz and Gary Scott discuss some of their findings in breast cancer research.

Here at the Buck, Dr. Christopher Benz is seeking improved treatments for breast cancer. Dr. Benz, a practicing oncologist, is investigating mitochondrial proline dehydrogenase (PRODH), which produces radicals that contribute to cancer cell apoptosis. PRODH has been found to induce apoptosis in certain cell lines through a proline-dependent mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and also reduces tumor formation in mice. Ironically, some cancer cells may use proline oxidation to drive proliferation and protection against stress. Currently the Benz lab is looking into the expression in PRODH in a mouse model, whereas previous work with PRODH had mostly used worms, flies and cell lines. The lab hopes to use the PRODH mouse model to observe the expression levels of PRODH and determine whether it will have a positive or negative effect in regulating cancer progression.

Over the last few decades there have been significant strides in breast cancer research, which may be responsible for the steady decrease in breast cancer-related mortality. All the work being performed now will benefit hundreds of thousands of people in the future by allowing for earlier detection and more effective treatment. The work of the researchers mentioned here and many others are vital steps as we get closer and closer to one day curing breast cancer. If you are interested in donating to breast cancer research, please follow one of the links below or visit the sites of the many other breast cancer research organizations!


Links for donation:

National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. 

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Susan G. Komen Foundation