Baylor Research Team Gets $6.3M to Study Disparities Among Minorities with Prostate, Breast Cancers

Baylor Research Team Gets $6.3M to Study Disparities Among Minorities with Prostate, Breast Cancers

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded a Baylor College of Medicine research team $6.3 million to develop patient-derived mouse models aimed at understanding the biological reasons behind racial and ethnic health disparities in prostate and breast cancers.

In particular, the funding will help Baylor establish a Minority Patient-derived Xenograft Development and Trial Center (M-PDTC), which will include Baylor and MD Anderson Cancer Center experts specializing in devleoping patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models, molecular biology and signaling pathways, treatment studies in animals, and pathology and clinical management of prostate and breast cancer.

Patient-derived xenografts are basically disease mouse models created using patients’ own tumor cells, which are then implanted into mice and used to study tumor environment or response to specific treatments.

Funded as part of the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative, the center will be directed by Nicholas Mitsiades, MD, PhD, associate director of the Center for the Biology of Health Disparities and co-leader of Baylor’s Nuclear Receptor Program. He is also associate professor of medicine-hematology at Baylor.

“While socioeconomic and environmental factors definitely contribute to racial and ethnic cancer health disparities, there is also evidence for biological differences, and Baylor is a leader in their study,” Mitsiades, said in a press release, noting that many of Baylor’s patients are Houston-area minorities.

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of death overall for men in the United States, but the mortality rate, for reasons largely unknown, is 2.5 times higher for African-Americans than whites.

The hope is that, with newly established tools, the center will result in better healthcare and access for underserved minority populations nationwide.

Baylor’s long collaborative research history and existing infrastructure, along with its healthcare role in the local minority community, makes it a natural fit for the M-PDTC, Mitsiades said.

For instance, Michael Ittmann, MD, PhD, a renowned leader in cancer biology who has spent years investigating health disparities, will be one of the center’s co-leaders. Ittmann, the William D. Tigertt Baylor Professor of Pathology at Baylor, recently received a Prostate Cancer Foundation grant to study prostate cancer in black veterans, including those exposed to chemicals used in combat, such as Agent Orange.

Salma Kaochar, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor, will lead prostate PDX generation in the center. In partnership with Ittmann and Mitsiades, she has been working to interpret the epigenetic elements — compounds that change how genes are produced without modifying their sequence — of prostate cancer in African-American men.

In addition, Baylor has a prominent role in a $26.5 million NCI and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities study on the roles of genetics, tumor markers, and social stress among blacks with prostate cancer.

The center will also complement the work of Baylor’s Lester and Sue Smith Breast Cancer Center and its recently funded PDX Development and Trials Center for Breast Cancer, both part of NCI-PDXNet, an NCI program created to assist in the development and testing of therapies in patient-derived models.

In addition to Mitsiades and Ittmann, center research will also be led by Bert O’Malley, MD, Matthew Ellis, PhD, and Susan Hilsenbeck, PhD. The team will be joined by Nora Navone, MD, PhD, of MD Anderson.