Breast cancer is one of the most prominent types of cancer in our country, specifically in women. In the United States, approximately 1 in 8 women will get some sort of aggressive breast cancer in her life. As the cancer stage progresses, treatment for the patient becomes much more difficult — the diseased cells are becoming more likely to spread to other parts of the body.
When cancer cells travel from one part of the body to another, this is referred to as metastasis. Cancers that have spread to many places in the body tend to cause worse outcomes for patients. As cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it becomes much stronger and causes the body to become weak. There are various factors contributing to the aggressiveness of cancers.
A specific protein that we study in our lab is MEMO1. This protein has been found to encourage the metastasis, or migration, of breast cancer cells. Our goal is to block this protein’s function in order to prevent the metastasis of cancer cells, leading to easier treatment of aggressive cancers. One of the main experiments that I do in the lab is testing the migration of specific breast cancer cells in the presence and absence of this protein, MEMO1.
Prevention of Metastasis
Have you ever been to a very crowded outdoor concert before? Let’s picture a large group of people, like a concert audience, separated on two sides by a barrier. As this barrier is removed, the audience will likely spread out, or migrate, into this open area. Normally, breast cancer cells containing our protein of interest, will behave in the same manner as this concert audience.
Now let’s say we remove the barrier, but the entire audience is stuck in quicksand. They are no longer capable of moving into the open area. Our breast cancer cells mimic this behavior when our target protein is not functioning properly. Ideally, we can block this protein from causing cancer cell migration.
Cancer Therapy Development
One of the most interesting experiments that I perform is testing various drug-like molecules on the migration of breast cancer cells. The best molecules that we have found cause the cancer cells to mimic the behavior of the audience stuck in the quicksand. Hopefully, in the future, our research will lead to the development of a new therapy to treat aggressive breast cancers.
-Cassidy Hilton, Chemistry Class of 2020