Associate ProfessorNTR Faculty
Office: DPI 2.806
Office: PAI 4.36C
Lab: PAI 4.32
Research Areasbreast cancer, cell signalling, cells, hormones, prostate cancer
Ph.D., Molecular Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
B.A., Colgate University
While recent improvements in detection and treatment have improved the overall survival rate for breast cancer, it remains the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women in the US. This is primarily due to our lack of understanding as to the mechanisms by which cancer cells develop an aggressive phenotype, becoming resistant to most therapies and metastasizing to distant sites such as the bone and lungs. Similarly, while surgery successfully cures 90% of all prostate cancers, those cancers that recur and metastasize are highly resistant to all our current treatments, resulting in death within 5 years in 96% of the men with recurrent disease. The deGraffenried laboratory investigates the mechanisms by which breast and prostate cancer cells become highly aggressive, focusing on the signaling that occurs within the cell to promote survival of the cancer cell even in the face of treatment that should promote death of the cancer cell. By understanding the mechanisms by which cells become aggressive, we hope to develop effective interventions that will block these processes. We investigate both pharmacological as well as diet and lifestyle approaches to modulate the cancer process, in the hope of inhibiting both the development of the cancer as well as improving treatment response in the more resistant tumors.
We are extremely interested in how obesity, a rising epidemic within the US, influences survival of breast and prostate cancer patients. We are working with clinicians at the Health Science Center at San Antonio as well as at the University of Kansas Cancer Center to understand how obesity promotes worse outcome in breast and prostate cancer patients, both in terms of increasing the risk of developing the disease as well as making the tumors that develop in obese patients much less responsive to treatment. In a highly collaborative effort, we are working together to move the findings in the laboratory quickly into the clinic, and taking the results from the clinic back to the laboratory to develop even better therapeutics for treating these deadly cancers.
We are also interested in how the aging process influences the development of prostate cancer, and are using highly novel models to understand the relationship between aging, the immune system, and prostate cancer development. The aging immune system not only is compromised in terms of its ability to fight off infection, but it also changes in terms of the factors that are secreted from the immune cells, promoting changes in the prostate tissue that make it more susceptible to the development of cancer. Our highly novel studies have provided significant insight as to why the risk for prostate cancer rises dramatically in older men but is never seen in younger men. The ultimate goal is to develop diagnostic assays that could detect the presence of the cancer-promoting factors in the blood and provide compounds that could inhibit the activity of these factors.
Finally, for several years we have been investigating the potential use of omega-3 fatty acids, found in high quantities in marine fish oil, to improve patient outcome, both in terms of improving tumor response to conventional therapies as well as functioning as cancer preventive agents in women at high risk for the development of breast cancer. Our preclinical data suggests that properties of the omega-3 fatty acids are associated with suppression of the pathways needed by the cancer cells to survive, while not affecting the health of non-cancer cells. We are involved in clinical investigations with high risk patients to determine if omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can prevent the development of invasive breast cancer as well as recurrent prostate cancer. Additionally, we are also working with the clinicians to evaluate the use of omega-3 fatty acids to improve tumor response to hormone therapy in both resistant breast and prostate cancer.
The deGraffenried laboratory is part of an integrated program that encompasses basic research, cancer treatment, clinical trials, education programs and cancer prevention. The ultimate goal is to develop effective interventions, both pharmacological as well as diet and lifestyle that lower both the risk as well as aggressiveness of breast and prostate cancer, leading to improved survival for all cancer patients.
Dr. deGraffenried has been nationally and internationally recognized for her work in breast and prostate cancer. She receives funding for her work from the National Cancer Institute, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, and the Department of Defense. She sits on several national review panels, and is an associate editor for the journal Molecular Carcinogenesis. Dr. deGraffenried’s students have received recognition for the research that they are doing in her laboratory, including full fellowships for their graduate studies as well as numerous travel awards to present their research at national meetings.