Researchers with the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine have joined a team that includes groups from The Methodist Hospital and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston to better understand mechanisms of tumor-initiating breast cancer cells, which are resistant to chemotherapy and may be responsible for cancer recurrence and metastasis.

The team was formed through a five-year, $11.5 million National Institutes of Health center grant to Methodist. The BCM team will receive approximately $5.5 million of the grant.

“We will be trying to identify these tumor-initiating cells more precisely and expand our analysis of genetic regulators with the hopes of identifying new therapeutic targets,” said Dr. Michael Lewis, principal investigator of the BCM site and an assistant professor in the Smith Breast Center. “We hope to characterize the behavior of these cells, which are also currently under clinical study, to see how they respond to treatment.”

Researchers at Methodist and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston will establish bioinformatic and mathematical models that show how these cells behave in treated and untreated tumors. The models can make predictions that will be tested by the BCM team in a lab setting using novel experimental therapies.

Co-investigators of the BCM site include Drs. Jeffrey Rosen, Jenny Chang, Thomas Westbrook, Susan Hilsenbeck, Dean Edwards, Shixia Huang, Chad Shaw, Mary Dickinson, and Suzanne Fuqua.

The BCM team has been a pioneer of this new approach to treating breast cancer. Their research has contributed to identifying new genetic pathways that serve as effective targets for these cells.

Additionally, promising results from early animal and human trials involving one experimental treatment were recently announced.