Grants - V Scholar Grants - Florida - 2021

Verline Justilien, PhD

FUNDED BY THE STUART SCOTT MEMORIAL CANCER RESEARCH FUND WITH SUPPORT FROM BRISTOL MYERS SQUIBB

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Non-small cell lungcancer (NSCLC) accounts for the majority of lung cancer diagnoses and has a very low survival rate. There is a sub-population of cells within NSCLC tumors called cancer stem cells (CSCs) that are highly aggressive. These CSCs are capable of fueling the growth and metastasis of tumors and have been shown to be resistant to current drug treatments for NSCLC. Therefore, CSCs must be eliminated to effectively treat and gain lasting remission in patients with NSCLC. CSCs can communicate with other cells in a tumor by transferring information packaged within small particles called extracellular vesicles (EVs). We hypothesize that the molecules packaged within EVs from CSCs can make non-CSCs within NSCLC tumors more aggressive by increasing their ability to grow and metastasize. We propose to identify the molecules packaged within NSCLC CSC EVs. We also aim to block the function of the molecules within the CSC EVs to prevent the growth of NSCLC cancer cells. Completion of these studies will provide new information about how CSCs function to make NSCLC deadly. In addition, these studies will help in the design of new strategies to eliminate NSCLC CSCs which may provide effective, long-term treatment for NSCLC patients.