The PA Breast Cancer Coalition (PBCC) recently awarded Qihong Huang, M.D., Ph.D., with a $50,000 grant to further his research efforts for metastatic breast cancer. Dr. Huang’s laboratory will focus on different aspects like tumor development and cancer biomarkers.
“My hope is that, with the help of this grant, I can learn more about why the disease recurs in some patients and not others, and ultimately develop a cure that will benefit patients with metastatic breast cancer,” said Dr. Huang, associate professor in the Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program at The Wistar Institute.
While overall breast cancer mortality has seen a steady decline in recent years, many patients still develop metastatic cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of under 25 percent. The prevention of metastatic disease is vital for the long-term survival of thousands of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year. When breast cancer metastasizes, it often spreads to the lungs, liver, or brain.
Recent research in the Huang laboratory showed that the protein Gabra3, which is typically expressed in the brain, is unexpectedly present in breast cancer cells. Gabra3 is also found on the surface of cells – meaning it’s much easier to target with drugs. Several FDA-approved drugs have already been developed for brain-related conditions, such as insomnia, using Gabra3 as a therapeutic target. Dr. Huang’s discovery of this new breast cancer target in conjunction with pre-existing drugs for Gabra3 has led to an exciting time at Wistar and for the Huang laboratory, culminating in this award from the PBCC.
Pat Halpin-Murphy, president and founder of the PBCC, praised Dr. Huang’s research on metastatic breast cancer, commenting that the PBCC is “thrilled that a scientist of Dr. Huang’s caliber has decided to focus on this research.” She also added that this award “comes from the people of Pennsylvania,” as much of PBCC’s funding is through taxpayer donations. Because the PBCC only awards three grants per year, each application is carefully scrutinized by a peer-review process, and only cutting-edge research is chosen for funding.
Dr. Huang’s innovative investigation into metastatic breast cancer treatment ultimately led to this accolade from the PBCC. He plans to use these funds to facilitate research for the next chapter of this research story – to find a molecule that can target Gabra3 exclusively in breast cancer cells while sparing the protein that is present in the brain.