Grants - V Scholar Grants - North Carolina - 2016

James Alvarez, Ph.D.

Following surgery and treatment, breast cancer patients live with a high risk of developing a relapse. When tumors do recur, especially at distant sites, they are often incurable. Therefore, it is important to develop new approaches for preventing breast cancer relapse. The period between treatment of the primary tumor and the formation of a recurrent tumor is called dormancy. During this stage there are cancer cells somewhere in the patient’s body that are dormant, or not actively growing. These dormant cells are the source from which recurrences must arise. Understanding how these cells survive for long periods and designing ways to kill them is important for preventing recurrences. 

Dormant tumors cannot be detected by current imaging methods, and so studying these cells in patients is difficult. We have developed mouse models that allow us to study dormancy and recurrence. Using these models, we have found that dormant tumors have a unique type of metabolism. In order to translate this finding to a potential therapy it is important to know more about this metabolism works, and whether dormant cells can be killed by targeting this metabolism. In this proposal we will use the mouse models we developed to address these questions. Once we understand more about dormant cell metabolism, we may be able to design drugs that can kill dormant cells and prevent breast cancer relapse.