ASU researcher investigates new treatments for dormant, lethal cancer cells

The second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the United States is breast cancer. Despite early diagnosis and no trace of active tumors after treatment, as many as 30 percent of patients relapse, even decades later, often due to dormant cancer cells that go undetected.

Conventional chemotherapeutic drugs have little to no effect on these dormant cancer cells often responsible for relapse, so researchers at Arizona State University are investigating tumor environments in order to develop better treatments for dormant and proliferating cancer cells.

Sheba Goklany, a chemical engineering assistant research scientist in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is working to develop innovative therapeutic strategies to eliminate dormant and active cancer cells to better treat patients and decrease the relapse rate.

“We are working toward developing novel strategies that would only target cancer cells without affecting normal cells of the body, which is a major concern among current chemotherapeutic regimens,” Goklany says.

As this is an important issue for patients in Arizona and the United States, the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission granted her a New Investigator Award to help her achieve this important breakthrough.

The ABRC seeks to help new investigators generate the preliminary data necessary to apply for larger federal grants through its New Investigator Award. Goklany will receive $225,000 over three years to aid in her research with ASU faculty and partners at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Arizona.

Goklany is involved in developing unique treatments and testing their efficacy in chemical engineering Professor Kaushal Rege’s Molecular and Nanoscale Bioengineering Lab.

“She will develop a new three-dimensional cell culture system and investigate this approach to study dormancy in breast cancer,” says Rege, Goklany’s senior mentor and a faculty member in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

She and the research team will use new types of hydrogels called Amikagels for growing breast cancer cells that would mimic the tumor microenvironment in the body.

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