Courtesy of Cornell University

Prof. Scott Coonrod and fourth-year Ph.D. student Arash Latifkar M.S. ’16 were awarded a total of $75,000 in research grant money.

April 11, 2018

Grad Student and Professor Awarded Grants for Breast Cancer Research

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The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester has awarded a Cornell graduate student and professor with grants totaling $75,000 to support their projects in breast cancer research.

The recipients are fourth-year Ph.D. student Arash Latifkar M.S. ’16 and Prof. Scott Coonrod, the Judy Wilpon Professor of Cancer Biology.

“Research funding is currently difficult to come by and this award is greatly appreciated,” Coonrod told The Sun in an email. “Grants like these can help investigators keep their labs running and play a critical role in the overall biomedical research endeavor in the U.S.”

According to The Ithaca Journal, the coalition believes that Latifkar’s and Coonrod’s projects have the potential to make exceptional medical breakthroughs in understanding the cause and prevention of breast cancer and cancer metastasis.

According to the coalition’s website, their research initiative is integral in advancing the coalition’s goals in promoting breast cancer research and in eradicating breast cancer. Coalition grant money is awarded as “seed money” for new and innovative projects with the potential to further this goal.

“This funding will help us carry out critical first experiments to test our hypotheses, and will provide the preliminary data for large scale NIH grants on this topic which we hope to submit by the end of the year,” Coonrod said.

The coalition awarded Latifkar the $25,000 Pre-and-Post-Doctoral Grant for his proposal, “Determining how down regulating Sirtuin 1 expression in breast cancer generates a secretome that promotes invasion and metastasis,” according to The Ithaca Journal.

Latifkar is a graduate research assistant in the veterinary college and works in the laboratories of Prof. Richard Cerione, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology, and Prof. Hening Lin, chemistry and chemical biology. He told The Sun that his work focuses on extracellular vesicles that play important roles in cancer progression and metastasis, the “ultimate step in cancer progression,” as tumor cells leave their primary sites and travel to other parts of the body, inciting the growth of new tumors.

Latifkar explained that enzymes called Sirtuins regulate these extracellular vesicles, and that “aberrations” in their proper functioning can alter cell-to-cell communication and promote the growth and invasion of tumor cells.

Approximately 90 percent of cancer mortality is due to metastasis rather than to the primary tumor, Latifkar told The Sun.

“With the support from Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester, we hope to further unravel this phenomenon and investigate strategies that can disrupt cancer cell[s] communicating with each other through extracellular vesicles,” Latifkar said.

Coonrod was awarded the coalition’s Faculty Grant of $50,000 for his proposal titled, “Role of PAD-2 in ER-DNA Binding and Endocrine Resistance.”

According to The Ithaca Journal, Coonrod is researching the role of enzymes in gene regulation and cancer progression. This project will advance understanding of how resistance to the drug tamoxifen, which is used to treat estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, may develop.

“Most breast cancers express the Estrogen Receptor (ER), and this molecule plays a critical role in the growth and spread of these cancers,” said Coonrod. “Women with ER+ breast cancers are often treated with anti-estrogen therapies which block the activity of ER, thus causing the tumors to stop growing.”

However, many women undergoing these anti-estrogen therapies become resistant to the treatment and the tumors start to grow again, according to Coonrod. His research will investigate ways to prevent resistance from growing.

Coonrod told The Sun that he has found that an ER cofactor, PAD-2, may be required for ER to bind to its DNA elements and activate gene expression in breast cancer cells.

“The goal of this project is to determine whether PAD-2 might also be required for ER/DNA binding in women with tamoxifen resistance,” Coonrod said.

“We are doing as much as we can to try to strengthen up the links between PAD-2 and breast cancer in order to speed up the initiation of clinical studies into these types of drugs so that they can potentially be used to treat ER+ breast cancer patients in the not-too-distant future,” Coonrod told The Sun.