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NEWS | June 27, 2012

UC Davis researchers win three of 11 California breast cancer research grants

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

Three multidisciplinary teams of UC Davis researchers have been awarded IDEA grants from the California Breast Cancer Research Program.

The three were among 11 in California to receive $150,000 IDEA research grants this year. The program funds innovative research through the tobacco tax, voluntary tax-check-off on personal income tax forms and individual contributions.

The grants cover an array of research expertise at UC Davis, including nutrition, pathology,  mouse biology, radiology and biomedical engineering.

One IDEA grant will fund development of a new type of PET scanner capable of detecting far more miniscule changes in breast tissue than can be detected with existing technology. Abhijit Chaudhari, assistant  professor of radiology and principal investigator, said higher-resolution PET imaging could allow physicians to monitor a patients' response to breast cancer treatment  prior to undergoing surgery.

"We know that breast cancer takes different paths in different types of patients," Chaudhari said. "The idea is to monitor on a much smaller scale what these changes are as the breast cancer progresses and is treated."

Another grant will examine the potential effect of folic acid exposure on developing mammary glands in utero and after birth. and its potential role in the development of precancerous lesions and malignant tumors.

Josh Miller, principal investigator for the folic acid study, explained that since folic acid has been used to fortify flour and cereal grains, rates of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida have been dramatically reduced. However, lingering questions remain about the safety of folic acid fortification. One area of concern is whether excess folic acid exposure in a developing fetus and in children can affect subsequent risk of breast cancer. Miller, and his co-principal investigators Alexander "Sandy" Boroswky and Russ Hovey, will use mice genetically engineered to mimic the effects of Her-2, the gene that contributes to 30 to 40 percent of human breast cancers, to test the molecular effects of excess folic acid exposure.

The third IDEA grant will help researchers establish the lifespans of different types of breast cancer cells and ultimately improve treatment approaches. Principal investigator Sandy Borowsky said current treatment methodologies, including radiation and chemotherapy, are most effective against rapidly dividing cells. Cancer stem cells - those cells that give rise to tumors - are believed to be relatively dormant and divide only rarely, believed to lead to treatment resistance and cancer recurrence. This controversial theory, which has never been directly tested, will be examined applying accelerated mass spectrometry C14 DNA technology to determine the average date of birth of the breast cancer stem cell population compared with other breast tumor cells in patient tumor samples.

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center serving the Central Valley and inland Northern California, a region of more than 6 million people. Its specialists provide compassionate, comprehensive care for more than 9,000 adults and children every year, and access to more than 150 clinical trials at any given time. Its innovative research program engages more than 280 scientists at UC Davis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Jackson Laboratory (JAX West), whose scientific partnerships advance discovery of new tools to diagnose and treat cancer. Through the Cancer Care Network, UC Davis collaborates with a number of hospitals and clinical centers throughout the Central Valley and Northern California regions to offer the latest cancer care. Its community-based outreach and education programs address disparities in cancer outcomes across diverse populations. For more information, visit cancer.ucdavis.edu.