NCBiotech Grant Supports App State U Breast Cancer Research

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This story, published by Appalachian State University in December, demonstrates one of the ways NCBiotech grants help support the life sciences statewide. A $20,000 Flash grant was awarded to this ASU project in 2021. "NCBiotech is pleased to support Dr. Reddish's effort to discover new treatments for triple negative breast cancer,” said Susan Lankford, Ph.D., director of science and technology development. “Our Flash grant program provides funding for an investigator to quickly assess the feasibility of an idea. We saw that Dr. Reddish's idea had a lot of potential and we're excited to learn about the outcome of his research.")

Reddish, Harris in lab

Michael Reddish (left) and Ethan Harris test samples in the lab
in ASU’s A.R. Smith Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences,
where they investigate treatments for triple-negative breast cancer.
-- Photo by Chase Reynolds

BOONE, N.C. — A research team at Appalachian State University is investigating effective treatments for one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer — with the goal of reducing adverse side effects.

Dr. Michael Reddish, assistant professor in App State’s A.R. Smith Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences, has been awarded a grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBC) to study medications proposed to treat triple-negative breast cancers, which he said have “the least number of and least effective treatment options available.”

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc., a diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer means the three receptors that fuel most breast cancer growth — estrogen, progesterone and the HER-2 gene — are not present in the tumor, and common treatments like hormone therapy are ineffective. Approximately 10% to 20% of breast cancers are triple negative.

Research from other groups has shown high concentrations of a particular sterol — 27-hydroxycholesterol (27HC) — are associated with triple-negative breast cancer and cancer metastasis, which is the development of malignant growth elsewhere in the body, Reddish said.

Medications can inhibit production of the sterol 27HC, but this presents a problem: “The inhibitors will also likely alter metabolism of vitamin D, which could lead to increased cases of osteoporosis in patients,” Reddish explained.

In his lab at App State, Reddish and his team are testing medications in hopes of finding one that inhibits the sterol production while minimizing the vitamin D reaction.

“If we can make such a finding, this would elevate that drug as a good treatment option, or other chemists could use that drug to optimize and make an even better drug,” Reddish said.

Several App State students are assisting Reddish in his work, including Ethan Harris, a senior double majoring in chemistry-biochemistry and biology-cellular/molecular biology.

“I have a passion for this kind of work because I want to help people,” Harris said. “Cancer has affected several members of my family, so I feel a connection.”

Harris, who is from Clemmons, said working in the lab has helped him realize he would like to pursue a career in research. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

ASU Communications Writer Jan Todd
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