ChristianaCare Study Discovers Radiation-triggered Inflammation can Drive Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Feb 25, 2020 | Breast Cancer, Cancer, ChristianaCare, Inflammation, Oncology, Radiation, Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

ChristianaCare Study Discovers Radiation-triggered Inflammation can Drive Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

A study led by an investigator with ChristianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute concludes that the radiation used to treat breast cancer by killing cancer cells can cause side effects, including inflammation, which in turn can introduce a contrary effect by promoting the survival of triple-negative breast cancer cells.

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

The fastest growing type of breast cancer, triple-negative breast cancer now represents about 15-20% of all breast cancers. It is a breast cancer that doesn’t express genes for estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR) and HER2/neu, making it difficult to treat given that most hormone therapies target one of the three receptors. Hence, this form of cancer often requires combination therapies.  

Delaware was the location of the study and represents a hot spot for triple-negative breast cancer. Rates in “The First State” are the highest nationwide according to the ChristianaCare news release.


Published online in the International Journal of Radiation Biology and led by Jennifer Sims-Mourtada, PhD, director of Translational Breast Cancer Research at ChirstianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. Dr. Sims-Mourtada’s study titled “Radiation induces an inflammatory response that results in STAT3-dependent change in cellular plasticity and radioresistance of breast cancer stem-like cells” brings scientists closer to understanding the mechanisms behind this aggressive and challenging cancer. Radiation-triggered inflammation can trigger stem-cell-like characteristics in non-stem breast cancer cells.


The Delaware-based research team applied radiation to triple-negative breast cancer stem cells and to non-stem cells and found in both cases radiation induced an inflammatory response triggering the II-6/Stat3 pathway. This plays an important role in the growth and survival of cancer stem cells in triple-negative breast cancers. Importantly, the team, led by Dr. Sims-Mourtada found that inhibiting STAT3 blocks the creation of the cancer stem cells. The investigators are still unclear as to the role of IL-6/STAT3 in transforming non-stem cell to a stem-cell.


This research was supported by a $659,538 grant from the Lisa Dean Moseley Foundation enabling Dr. Sims-Mourtada and her team at the Cawley Center for Translational Cancer research to continue investigating the roles of cells immediately around a tumor in spurring the growth of triple-negative breast cancer and a possible therapy for this particularly difficult cancer.

The Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute—Part of ChristianaCare

The Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute, a National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program, is part of ChristianaCare, one of the country’s most dynamic health systems, centered on improving health outcomes, making high-quality care more accessible and lowering health care costs. With more than 232,000 patient visits last year, the Graham Cancer Center is recognized as a national model for multidisciplinary cancer care and a top enroller in U.S. clinical research trials. In conjunction with its Gene Editing Institute, the Cawley Center for Translational Cancer Research, the Tissue Procurement Center, statewide High-Risk Family Cancer Registry and collaborations with world-renowned scientists at facilities such as The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia scientists are opening new avenues to more quickly translate cancer science into cancer medicine.

ChristianaCare, based in Wilmington, Delaware, is a network of private, non-profit hospitals offering health care services to all of Delaware and portions of seven counties bordering the state in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. The system includes two hospitals in Delaware, Wilmington Hospital and Christiana Hospital as well as the Eugene du Pont Preventive Medicine & Rehabilitation Center, the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, the Center for Heart & Vascular Health, Visiting Nurse Association and a wide range of outpatient and satellite services.

Lead Research/Investigator

Jennifer Sims-Mourtada, PhD, director of Translational Breast Cancer Research at ChirstianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute

Call to Action: The ChristianaCare team will now drill down deeper to better understand this inflammatory response so they can identify ways to inhibit it and hence stop the development of new cancer stem cells.  If other researchers have an interest in this topic, why not connect with Dr. Sims-Mourtada?

Source: EurekAlert!


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