Pathologist Wins Breast Cancer Award to Study Bone Metastasis

Mar. 24, 2015

A University of Rochester Medical Center scientist, who is studying an “all-in-one” agent to be used when breast cancer spreads to the bone, received a $50,000 grant today from the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester (BCCR).

Zhenqiang Yao, B.Med., research assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, is investigating whether a particular protein inhibitor can kill cancer cells while simultaneously preventing bone breakdown and stimulating bone growth.bone cancer on x-ray

Most breast cancer deaths occur when the disease spreads to other parts of the body. Bone metastasis accounts for about 70 percent of all advanced breast cancers. The problem is that when cancer invades the bone it also produces factors that break down the bone, but no single current treatment can destroy the cancer cells while also help protecting bones and preventing the growth of new cancer. 

Currently, chemotherapy and radiation are used on the cancer; and other approved therapies such as bisphosphonates help to build up new bone. Yao is testing a protein inhibitor in mice that was originally developed for cancer but also has been shown to protect bone at certain dosages. The goal is to prevent or eliminate cancerous bone lesions.

The BCCR has awarded more than $525,000 in research grants since 2003. In recent years they have supported other URMC scientists, including Helene McMurray, Ph.D., and Mark Noble, Ph.D., who are studying how to selectively target breast-cancer initiating cells, and the lab of Edward Brown III, P.D., which also studies the spread of breast cancer to other organs and the impact of stress on breast cancer.

Yao won the grant through a competitive process that drew applicants from across upstate New York. He is expected to provide an update to the BCCR in about six months.