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Researchers receive grant to study use of natural compounds in triple-negative breast cancer prevention

Published: 10/31/2017

A study that will explore triple-negative breast cancer prevention therapies using natural compounds has been recommended for approximately $1.5 million in funding by the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). Called the Breakthrough Award, this grant funds work that supports promising research with the potential to lead to or make breakthroughs in breast cancer. 

Triple-negative breast cancer is a particularly aggressive subtype of breast cancer. It has a high recurrence rate and is responsible for about 30 percent of all breast cancer-related deaths. Triple-negative breast cancer doesn’t grow in response to the hormones estrogen, progesterone, or HER2, and therefore doesn’t respond to hormonal therapies that target the receptors of these hormones. 

Cheryl Jernigan, lead patient research advocate, PIVOT - Patient and Investigator Voices Organizing Together program at The University of Kansas Cancer CenterRoy Jensen, MDShrikant Anant, PhD, associate director of Prevention and Cancer Control at The University of Kansas Cancer CenterShrikant Anant, PhD, and KU Cancer Center director Roy Jensen, PhD, both principal investigators (PIs), worked closely with patient advocate Cheryl Jernigan to develop the research project. They chose to focus on recurrence prevention in triple-negative breast cancer because current strategies primarily focus on hormonally driven tumors. 

Anant and Jensen are studying the HSP90 protein, which if inhibited, could greatly reduce chances of recurrence. Current HSP90 inhibitor drugs have many side effects. They have found that the natural compounds celastrol, which is isolated from the root extracts of a plant, and gedunin, an extract from the neen tree, stop HSP90 function without the negative side effects often seen with pharmaceutical HSP90 inhibitors. 

 “This is an opportunity to reduce risk of recurrence for patients with triple-negative breast cancer in way that minimizes side effects. Hopefully by using natural compounds we will have an effective strategy to decrease recurrence of breast cancer in this group of patients,” Jensen says.

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