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BCRFA Backs Innovative Research to Transform TNBC Treatment

The BCRFA is pleased to announce funding for a Pre-R01 grant through the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)’s spring cycle of O’Neal Invests. Funding will support Steve Lim, Ph.D. in the Department of Pathology, Division of Molecular and Cellular Pathology, for his project “Nuclear FAK-mediated Epigenetic Reprogramming of Triple Negative Breast Cancer.”

Dr. Steve Lim, PhD

Dr. Lim’s work focuses on a type of aggressive breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). TNBC is difficult to treat because it doesn’t respond to the usual breast cancer therapies. Specifically, Lim and his team are looking at a protein called Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) that helps cancer grow and spread and testing some drugs that block FAK in clinical trials.

In previous studies, they found that when they blocked FAK in TNBC cells, it made some other signals inside the cells related to estrogen (a hormone) stronger which didn’t happen in other types of breast cancer. This lead them to try a combination of the FAK-blocking drug and a drug that activates these estrogen signals in TNBC cells. When they used both drugs together, it was more effective at stopping the cancer from growing and spreading in mice with TNBC.

This research aims to test their belief that blocking FAK may lower levels of a protein called EZH2 (related to turning off genes), which might be why these estrogen signals get stronger. To see if this is true, the team will do more experiments with cells, mice, and samples from TNBC patients.

Overall, the goal is to understand how FAK affects estrogen signals and find a better way to treat TNBC by using FAK-blocking drugs along with drugs that boost estrogen signals.

Funding for this project will be $160,000 over two years. All O’Neal Invests proposals are peer-reviewed by a panel of UAB faculty.

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