UD postdoctoral researcher wins grant from Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition

The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition recently awarded a research travel grant to Shantanu Pradhan, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Delaware Department of Biomedical Engineering.

This $1,000 award helps cover the cost of conference fees, travel, and lodging as Pradhan attends the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Annual Meeting, Dec. 2-6, in Philadelphia. There, he is showcasing his research on three-dimensional modeling of breast tumor dormancy within tunable PEG-based hydrogels.

Using hydrogels for cancer research

Breast cancer is most treatable when it’s diagnosed at an early stage. However, in an estimated 30 percent of patients, the disease eventually comes back as advanced or metastatic cancer.

This happens because some cancerous cells spread beyond the initial tumor, travel through the patient’s bloodstream, and nestle in other organs, such as the brain or liver. Once there, these cells may lie dormant for months or years before making the patient sick again.

Pradhan and other researchers in UD’s Slater Lab are exploring what makes breast cancer cells lie dormant in secondary organs—and what factors make them active again.

In the Slater Lab, these questions are examined using hydrogels, networks of polymers with the ability to absorb water. The gels can be adjusted to represent the microenvironment of specific organs.

“We are working with hydrogels that mimic body tissue, made as soft as fat or as stiff as bone,” said Pradhan.

By testing different hydrogel textures and strengths of adhesion, they hope to determine the types of environments that keep cells in their dormant state—and those that don’t. This insight could eventually help drug developers design better chemotherapies to target dormant cells and lessen cancer patients’ risks of secondary tumors.

Pradhan started working with breast cancer cells in hydrogels when he was a doctoral student at Auburn University. He is happy and honored to receive this award from the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition.

“It is very inspiring,” he said. “This organization provides a lot of community service to breast cancer patients and survivors.”

As a scientist studying cancer at the cellular level, it’s easy to get lost in the details of the lab experiments, but “organizations like this help us understand the real value of our work,” he said.

Pradhan and John Slater, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, were presented with the research travel grant on Monday, Nov. 13 at the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition headquarters in Wilmington.

Second year master’s students, third year doctoral students, and postdoctoral researchers attending a Delaware university were eligible to apply for the grant to attend an academic conference related to breast cancer. To be considered, the student must have had a paper or poster accepted at a national meeting.

As part of the award, Pradhan will also give a presentation at the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s Breast Cancer Update in April 2018 in Dover, Delaware.

“The research being done in Delaware provides so much excitement to our breast cancer survivor community,” said Nanci Mayer-Mihalski, DBCC Research Grant Committee Chair and breast cancer survivor. “We hope the work Shantanu is involved in, along with the larger breast cancer research in Dr. Slater’s lab, will provide answers to basic questions regarding tumor dormancy, metastasis, triple negative breast cancer, and further clinical translational research. DBCC is proud to play a small role in connecting the researchers to the patients, and helping to share the work being done in the lab with our larger community.”

About DBCC

The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition is a 501(c)(3) organization offering statewide programs and services of education, outreach, and early detection and treatment of breast cancer. Its vision is to create a community where every person diagnosed with breast cancer is a survivor, and fear and doubt are replaced with knowledge and hope.

Headquartered in Wilmington with offices in Sussex and Kent Counties, DBCC’s programs reach diverse communities to deliver messages that address their unique concerns about breast cancer and early detection. Recognizing the barriers of language, culture, and economics, DBCC trains community advocates to educate and encourage women to take responsibility for breast health. DBCC helps women with low incomes and those with little or no insurance to receive free or reduced-cost care.

DBCC also supports the National Breast Cancer Coalition and their research efforts by helping to facilitate participation in local clinical trials. All funds raised for DBCC support programs in Delaware and the neighboring areas in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey.

For more information about the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, call 866-312-DBCC (3222) or visit the website at www.debreastcancer.org.