Murali Yallapu Receives $439,818 Grant to Continue Drug Development for Aggressive and Late Stage Breast Cancer

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Dr. Murali Yallapu has received an NIH grant to continue his research on developing a drug therapy to combat aggressive and late-stage breast cancer, especially triple negative breast cancer. (Photo by Connor Bran/UTHSC)

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for women in both developed and underdeveloped countries. With survival rates varying worldwide, it is imperative that novel research be undertaken to combat this global health concern.

Murali Yallapu, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has received a $439,818 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue his research on developing a drug therapy to combat aggressive and late-stage breast cancer, especially triple negative breast cancer.

While there are therapies that are widely used for breast cancer, there is currently no effective target for triple negative breast cancer cells; this is attributed to suboptimal drug delivery systems as well as cellular resistance to therapies. In his project entitled, “Targeted Nano-Chemosensitization of Breast Cancers,” Dr. Yallapu is using a novel delivery system to deliver a natural compound called curcumin—which has been shown to have potent effects on cells but lacks strong movement within the body—for cancer therapeutic applications.

“For most of the cells that are treated with drugs, what happens is there are some portion of cells that still exist, which are drug resistant,” said Dr. Yallapu. “Even if you treat those cells again with the same drug, they will not respond.”

To make these cells respond to a particular drug again—which for this research was the highly effective and widely used drug called Cisplatin—researchers have to generate a targeted approach that takes care of the drug resistance. This is highly useful for treatments due to the synergistic action provided by curcumin and cisplatin, and could host the potential to even branch out to other cancer therapies.

Dr. Yallapu (third, left) and his research team (from left to right: Prashanth Kumar, PhD, Pallabita Chowdhury, , and Elham Hatami). Photo by Connor Bran/UTHSC)

Through this grant, Dr. Yallapu and his research team (Prashanth Kumar, PhD, Pallabita Chowdhury, and Elham Hatami) will be funded for three years to investigate how to best sensitize resistant cells using his novel magnetic nanoparticle delivery system to specifically target tumor cells demonstrating drug resistant properties. Dr. Yallapu and his team collaborated with the research teams of Meena Jaggi, PhD, and Subhash Chauhan, PhD , who are also faculty of the UTHSC College of Pharmacy, for successful implementation of this research—which is significant because the FDA has yet to approve a targeted based therapy, placing Dr. Yallapu at the front lines of this novel research.

This grant, however, has more than just a research element to its benefits, which Dr. Yallapu is thrilled about. “This award is basically a research grant, but it also includes training for doctoral students, improving infrastructure and other facilities within the College of Pharmacy because not all colleges at UTHSC are eligible to receive this type of grant .” said Dr. Yallapu.