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Yale biologist awarded $4.1 million for metastatic breast cancer research project

May 26, 2015
by Vicky Agnew

Yale Cancer Center biologist Dr. Qin Yan has been awarded $4.1 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for a project that will explore finding new drug targets and more effective treatments for metastatic breast cancer.

Yan, associate professor of Pathology at Yale, said the Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP) Era of Hope Scholar project aims to dissect the epigenetic mechanisms of breast cancer metastasis and to develop targeted therapies. He and his team hope to identify why some breast cancers become metastatic, understand what drives metastasis, and translate the findings into new personalized therapies for the clinic.

Epigenetics is the study of gene regulation that is heritable but does not involve changes to the genetic code. It explains why we have so many different kinds of cells, all with the same DNA, performing different functions. Epigenetics studies how external factors, such as diet, stress, and environment, turn genes on and off and compel genetic changes.

“Despite all the findings from years of breast cancer research and treatment, women with metastatic breast cancer still have few options, and we want to change this,” said Yan. “Targeted therapy and epigenetics are two of the most active frontiers in cancer research and treatment right now. Our project will take advantage of the best technology and expertise available with the hope of reducing deaths from this difficult disease.”

According to the DoD, the Era of Hope Scholar Award supports individuals early in their careers who have demonstrated significant potential to effect meaningful change in breast cancer. Recipients are considered to be “exceptionally talented scientists who demonstrate extraordinary creativity, vision, leadership, innovation, and productivity.”

“I congratulate Dr. Yan and team for developing a visionary project worthy of this award,” said Yale Cancer Center Director Thomas J. Lynch, MD. “I expect their project will help us better understand the role of epigenetics in metastasis so that we can find more effective treatments for this type of breast cancer.”

Collaborators on this project include: Lajos Pusztai, MD; David Stern; David Rimm, MD; Don Nguyen, Narendra Wajapeyee, and Carmen Booth.

Submitted by Renee Gaudette on May 26, 2015