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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 1, 2008

UI researchers receive Susan G. Komen grant for breast cancer research

The University of Iowa is one of 81 institutions in 27 states and five countries to benefit from $100 million in research grants being distributed by the organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The grants will support research focused on producing cures for breast cancer and represent the largest commitment of breast cancer funding by a single nonprofit organization.

The researchers in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine have received a three-year, $180,000 grant to study a new approach for preventing metastasis in breast cancer. The award is co-funded by the Des Moines Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The grant, a postdoctoral research award, will support the work of Melissa (Lai Tee) Teoh, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Frederick Domann, Ph.D., UI professor of radiation oncology in the Free Radical and Radiation Biology Graduate Program and a member of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. Domann is Teoh's mentor and the principal investigator on the grant, which is one of 46 such grants awarded.

"Breast cancer affects women all around the world. It is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States," Teoh said. "At the time of diagnosis, more than 60 percent of patients will have disease that has spread, and while a primary tumor can be surgically removed, there is no adequate therapy for preventing and treating metastasis. Finding a treatment that would target both tumor growth and metastasis is highly desirable."

"The Des Moines Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure is excited to announce the funding of research within our service area at the University of Iowa, a first for our Affiliate," said Cathy Palmer, board co-treasurer of the Des Moines Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. "This grant is part of a $600,000 slate of grants recently awarded by our Affiliate toward our mission of battling breast cancer on multiple fronts, including education, screening, treatment and research. We thank Dr. Domann, Dr. Teoh, and the University of Iowa for their support of furthering breast cancer research and hope that it moves us closer to finding a cure.

"As a breast cancer survivor, it is important to me that we are doing everything we can to win this fight," Palmer added.

Teoh's research will investigate the effect of combining an antioxidant enzyme known as extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD) with an anti-metastatic agent called PI-88, also known as low molecular weight heparin.

"Overall we hope that by targeting oxidative stress and heparanase pathways we can come up with a better treatment for metastasizing cancer cells," Teoh said.

Most cancer cells have low levels of antioxidant enzymes compared to normal cells, and the idea of using of antioxidant enzymes like EcSOD to slow cancer growth was pioneered at the UI by the late Larry Oberley, Ph.D., who was a UI professor of radiation oncology. Unlike other antioxidant enzymes that function inside cells, EcSOD resides on the cell surface and also in the circulation system. This unique property may mean that EcSOD can exert its anti-tumor effect systemically, making it a better therapeutic agent than the other antioxidant enzymes that have to be targeted directly to tumor cells.

The second point of attack in Teoh's approach is to use PI-88 to block the action of heparanase, an enzyme that is produced in abnormally high amounts by cancer cells and supports metastasis. PI-88 inhibits heparanase and has been shown to prevent metastasis in cancer models. It currently is being used in clinical trials of cancer treatments.

Using an aggressive and metastatic breast cancer cell line and animal models of metastatic breast cancer, Teoh will determine whether the combination therapy can inhibit breast cancer progression better than single therapies alone.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Jennifer Brown, 319-335-9917,