Meiyun Fan, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Pathology at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a $100,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute to study an aggressive form of breast cancer known as Basal-Like Breast Cancer, or BLBC. The grant will be distributed over two years.
Approximately 40 percent of patients with BLBC experience metastatic relapse within three years, Dr. Fan said. It usually spreads, she said, to the brain, the lungs or the liver – all very serious forms of cancer. “Nationally, only about 15 percent of breast cancer is BLBC, but about 40 percent of breast cancer in premenopausal African-American women is BLBC,” Dr. Fan said.
What Dr. Fan described as “a small RNA” — a nucleic acid found in living cells, similar to DNA — named miR-18a-5p plays a role in the signaling pathway that allows some tumor cells to “turn off” and become dormant during chemotherapy. “They stop proliferating, but they won’t respond to the chemotherapy. They basically hide from the chemotherapy and escape.”
Dr. Fan plans to study the exact role miR-18a-5p plays in making BLBC cells resistant to treatment. Her results will contribute to a broader understanding of drug resistance in cancer cells.
The National Cancer Institute conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the cause, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer, rehabilitation from cancer, and the continuing care of cancer patients and the families of cancer patients. For more information, visit www.cancer.gov.