Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine have received a $586,093, two-year award from the Department of Defense to study a potential new molecular target for breast cancer prevention in women with a high risk of developing the disease.

The grant was awarded to Dr. Yi Li, associate professor in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center and in molecular and cell biology at BCM.

Blocking Stat5

With the new grant, Li will study the effectiveness of blocking Stat5, a transcription factor (a protein that binds to DNA and turns on genes), for prevention in a group of women with early breast lesions such as atypical ductal hyperplasia. These lesions are a marker for women who may develop breast cancer in the future.

In cells undergoing breast cancer formation, Stat5 is believed to prevent cell death and promote cell survival, fueling the cancer's growth, BCM and other researchers have previously reported.

Targeting high risk

"We think that by targeting Stat5 we can reduce the chances that these cells will turn into cancer," said Li.

The researchers will conduct the study in mice using experimental drugs that target Stat5, including one developed at BCM by Dr. David Tweardy, co-investigator on this award.

Both Tweardy and Li are members of the NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Cancer Center at BCM.

The award comes from the Department of Defense's Office of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs and is a Breast Cancer Research Program Idea Expansion Award, a grant awarded to investigators that expands on a previously awarded DOD grant.