Grant to fund research into obesity, breast cancer links
Eva Surmacz, an associate professor in biology and a researcher in the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, has been awarded a two-year, $189,000 grant from the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust to investigate the molecular mechanisms that underlie the link between obesity and breast cancer.
“It is well known that obesity is an established risk for breast cancer development,” Surmacz said. “The molecular mechanisms, or how and why this happens, we don’t really know.”
According to Surmacz, previous studies have established that leptin, a protein that is always elevated in obese individuals and is higher in women that in men, can act locally within the body and promote cancer development by inducing survival of neoplastic cells. This can counteract the effects of cancer therapies and promote metastasis. Her latest data suggested that leptin levels are significantly higher in aggressive breast tumors than in normal mammary epithelium.
“Our preliminary data suggests that the elevation of leptin in breast cancer cells is induced by conditions associated with obesity,” Surmacz said. “This grant is to investigate and find out why leptin is higher in breast cancer cells than in normal cells. What are the molecular mechanisms that cause this to occur, and can we target these mechanisms by novel therapeutics?”
Surmacz, who has been has been studying the hormonal control of breast cancer development and progression for more than a decade, joined Temple’s biology faculty in November 2004 and has established a research program in obesity and cancer within the Sbarro Institute.
— Preston M. Moretz