Dwayne Boucaud wanted to cure cancer at age 5. Growing up, he considered becoming a medical doctor, but opted for a doctoral degree instead, reasoning that he could be more effective researching treatment options.
For the past seven years, Boucaud, an associate professor of biomedical sciences, has been investigating why more black women in the U.S. die of breast cancer than white women, even though more white women contract the disease.
He was a research fellow at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center-University of Texas and a professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore before coming to Quinnipiac in 2007.
Boucaud acknowledged that better access to health care on the part of white women probably contributes to the disparity in breast cancer deaths, but black women have been found to suffer from more aggressive tumors that show up earlier and are more difficult to treat, even if detected early. Interestingly, research shows that breast cancer tumors in black women tend to be missing estrogen receptors, a key finding that Boucaud and his team of undergraduate and graduate students are exploring. These receptors bind to estrogen and instruct the cell to grow.
"The drug Tamoxifen can be given to women with estrogen receptor-positive tumors because it tricks the tumor into thinking the estrogen supply has been cut off," he said. But, he added, Tamoxifen is not effective on estrogen receptive-negative tumors, the kind experienced by more black women.
The nuclear protein upstream stimulatory factor, which regulates receptors in normal cells, is missing in many tumor-derived cells studied. "Without USF activity, you'd expect to lose an aspect of estrogen receptor regulation," Boucaud said. The team is probing whether there is a key moment when USF is lost and whether that leads to loss of estrogen receptor expression.
The students are building cell lines in the lab to use as reporters of USF activity. They will screen for proteins that activate USF and see whether these proteins are missing or mutated in cancerous breast cells. Boucaud hopes their findings will lead to the development of interventions that may help to earlier diagnose or offer alternative treatments for women who suffer from estrogen receptor-deficient tumors.
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