How Stevens Works to Improve the Odds for Breast Cancer Patients
Stevens collaborations with Sloan Kettering, the University of Pennsylvania and other major research institutions take aim at a deadly disease.
As many as one in eight U.S. women will be diagnosed with a form of breast cancer — and an estimated 2 million or more cases will be diagnosed worldwide each year, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.
While survival rates have climbed over the past quarter-century, metastatic breast cancers still cause death within just three years of detection in half of all women diagnosed.
Stevens researchers, working with collaborators nationwide, hope to improve those odds and pave the way for more effective medications, treatments and therapies.
One team, headed by chemistry professor Abhishek Sharma, recently unlocked a new class of substances that appear highly promising for breast cancer treatment — particularly for those with drug-resistant or dangerously metastatic (spreading) stages of the disease.
In collaboration with Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center and the University of Illinois, the Stevens team tried an innovative attack, attaching a core compound to a series of experimental side-chains. After testing more than a dozen variations on cancer cells in the lab, the group found that many of these new compounds did indeed inhibit proliferation of tumor cells.
“These are structurally distinct from all the current drugs,” says Sharma, whose work has been supported by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, among other organizations. Next his team will select promising candidates from the new class of molecules and develop them into more potent drug candidates for further experiments.
In another project, Stevens researcher Hongjun Wang and his team shed new light on the conditions that enable breast cancer tumors to grow and spread.
Wang’s team confirmed a working hypothesis that stiffer regions of tissue surrounding a breast cancer tumor appear to speed the growth of tumor cells — at first. That wasn’t surprising, because previous studies indicated it might be true. After about three days, however, the experimental cells’ rapid growth rate suddenly slowed (and even stopped completely in the very stiffest material).
That’s major new insight and could point the way to medicines that stiffen the region around tumors intentionally to slow or even halt cancer’s growth.
“This insight should be applicable not only to breast cancer, but also to any solid-tumor cancer, such as prostate or pancreatic cancer, as well,” notes Wang.