|Breast cancer researcher Dr. Joy McDaniel in the laboratory at Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. McDaniel’s work may lead to a new targeted therapy for deadly triple negative breast cancer. (HudsonAlpha photo)|
Dr. Joy McDaniel was pursuing her PhD when her she lost her best friend. At just 24 years old, breast cancer took her life–making Dr. McDaniel’s research “personal.”
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the United States, and the rates are rising. A 2015 report from the American Cancer Society reported that not only are more Black women are being diagnosed, we’re being diagnosed much later.
We’re also more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form that does not have the three most common receptors for treatment drugs (estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2), making it harder to treat.
“One out of every three breast cancer diagnoses in African American women is triple negative,” Dr. McDaniel told AL.com.
While the statistics may look bleak, her research has led to a breakthrough that may save millions.
Metastasis happens when cancer cells develop throughout the body, reproducing and growing. Dr. McDaniel and her team studied the process, learning how to treat and possibly even stop triple negative breast cancer from spreading.
“What we found was that therapies that target STAT3 could prevent metastasis in triple negative breast cancer,” she said. “We were able to identify the same binding pattern in actual triple negative breast cancer patients.”
This key discovery could lead to developing therapies for treatment, helping Black women who have been diagnosed. The Spelman grad and her team are one step closer to finding the cure–and it’s work Dr. McDaniel will continue in her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.