Nalinikanth Kotagiri, an assistant professor in the Winkle College of Pharmacy, is studying ways ultraviolet light can activate light-sensitive drugs to treat metastatic breast cancer.
And Xiaoting Zhang, professor of cancer biology, who “graduated” in September from the sixth UC Venture Lab pre-accelerator program, continues to study the use of nanoparticles in treating breast cancer that is resistant to standard therapy.
Recently, Zhang received federal funding, an R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute, to study certain genetic material, known as small RNAs, in breast cancer metastasis (or spread). RNAs serve as messengers, carrying instructions from DNA for controlling the function and production of proteins; recently, small non-coding RNAs have been found to be potential key treatment targets in certain cancers.
This is the second research grant of this level Zhang has received from the National Cancer Institute. Zhang’s lab will use this funding to continue research examining molecular causes for treatment resistance and metastasis of ER-positive breast cancer, which makes up about 75% of breast cancers worldwide. ER-positive breast cancer means the cancer cells grow in response to the hormone estrogen. Zhang will look at the role of microRNAs in the production of a key breast cancer protein (MED1) and how it controls another type of small RNA called enhancer RNA in breast cancer. He will further use an RNA nanotechnology-based approach to target these small RNAs to combat breast cancer resistance and metastasis.
Zhang says he hopes that findings from this study will fill a knowledge gap in understanding small RNA function and how they impact the way cancer is treated and spreads. He adds that this could lead to a new and better treatment strategy for a patient population that doesn’t have many choices.