Breast cancer pilots fund interdisciplinary, collaborative studies

Two University of Florida researchers have received pilot funding from the UF Health Cancer Center for innovative studies to advance breast cancer research. The projects reflect the center’s multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to cancer research, harnessing the strengths of artificial intelligence experts and medicinal chemists. 

Noah Hammarlund, Ph.D., and Lina Cui, Ph.D.

Noah Hammarlund, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of health services research, management and policy in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions who focuses on artificial intelligence, was awarded funding for a project to create a polysocial risk score to improve adherence to guideline-based treatment for women with breast cancer.  

Lina Cui, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of medicinal chemistry in the UF College of Pharmacy, was awarded funding for a project to develop a small molecule tracer to monitor aging cells during breast cancer metastasis.  

The Cancer Center’s new breast cancer pilot program aims to promote the development of collaborative research initiatives for breast cancer research among Cancer Center members and between the Gainesville and Jacksonville campuses. The center’s pilot programs receive crucial support from the state of Florida through the Casey DeSantis Cancer Research Act (Fla. Stat. § 381.915). 

Hammarlund, a member of the center’s Cancer Control and Population Sciences (CCPS) research program, will identify social disadvantages such as transportation needs, lack of social support and employment issues that present barriers to receiving breast cancer treatment.  

The research team will then create a score that predicts whether a woman will receive appropriate care based on her social situation. The score will help identify women who may not otherwise receive the best care so care team members can find ways to meet her social needs. 

“This translational study will take OneFlorida+ data science to new heights by examining the link between a polysocial risk score, a novel artificial intelligence tool that captures social determinants of health from electronic health records, and adherence to guideline-concordant care among breast cancer patients in our service area,” said Dejana Braithwaite, Ph.D., co-leader of the CCPS research program and associate director for cancer population sciences at the Cancer Center. “The team will identify intervention targets to improve quality care and patient outcomes.” 

Cui, a member of the center’s Cancer Therapeutics and Host Response research program, will develop new molecular probes that can accurately monitor senescent cells during cancer treatment and metastasis. The probes will be used to track senescent cells in living organisms in combination with new drugs that can selectively kill the harmful senescent cells. 

The probe molecules will be designed for noninvasive imaging and the chemistry will be transferrable to medical imaging modalities, such as positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to facilitate future clinical translation. 

“This framework offers promising potential to guide the introduction of senolytic drugs for clearing senescent cells during cancer therapy,” said Weizhou Zhang, Ph.D., a leader of the Cancer Center’s Breast Cancer Working Group

Cui is collaborating on the project with Guangrong Zheng, Ph.D., a professor in the department of medicinal chemistry. Hammarlund’s collaborators include Jiang Bian, Ph.D., a professor and division director in the department of health outcomes and biomedical informatics; Adeline Deladisma, M.D., an assistant professor of surgery at UF Health – Jacksonville; Serena Guo, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy; and Erin Mobley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of surgery at UF Health – Jacksonville.

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