Nelson to Investigate Potential Biomarker and Therapeutic Target in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women after skin cancer, with 266,000 new cases diagnosed in 2018 and an estimated 41,000 deaths from the disease in the U.S.  No clinical biomarkers based on functional mechanisms of invasion and metastasis currently exist largely because breast cancers are heterogeneous malignancies.  LMP assistant professor Andrew Nelson and his fellow investigators hope to change that.

Breast cancer biomarkers would be clinically valuable for two reasons, according to Nelson.  “First, to better characterize early-stage disease that would benefit most from aggressive management, and second, to identify additional therapeutic approaches that could limit invasion and metastasis,” he said.

Nelson has been awarded a three-year American Cancer Society Clinical Scientist Development Grant totaling $437,000 for “Investigating RHAMM contributions to breast cancer progression.”  He and his colleagues see RHAMM (Receptor for Hyaluronan Mediated Motility) as an attractive candidate biomarker for invasion in breast cancer. RHAMM is a protein with many functions, one of which serves to promote malignant progression in several types of cancer by stimulating cell proliferation and migration.   

“Increased expression of RHAMM is associated with poor outcome in breast cancer patients,” Nelson said.  He and his research team will investigate how RHAMM functions regulate the ability of breast cancer cells to migrate and invade through their surrounding environment, looking for specific functions that could serve as predictive biomarkers in the clinic.  They will also assess the potential of RHAMM as a therapeutic target because pharmacologic peptides can disrupt RHAMM binding activity. 

“The collaborative and supportive environment created by LMP and the Masonic Cancer Center has been extremely important to my development and success as a clinician-scientist,” Nelson said.  “We are grateful for this generous funding from the American Cancer Center as well as the continued support of the Minnesota Masonic Charities to pursue new ways to better understand and treat breast cancer.”