GRANTEE: Shuibing Chen, PhD
Weill Cornell Medical College
Research Project: Targeting Chemoresistant Stem Cells in Pancreatic Cancer
Award: 2016 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – AACR Career Development Award (Grant funded by an anonymous foundation)
Award Period: July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2018
Dr. Chen is an assistant professor in the department of surgery and biochemistry at Weill Cornell Medical College, where she has been since 2011. She received her BS and MS from Tsinghua University, China. She received her PhD in chemistry from the Scripps Research Institute. Then she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. Dr. Chen has published more than 20 papers in peer-reviewed journals and holds six patents. She has earned many prestigious accolades, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award, the American Diabetes Association Junior Investigator Award and the New York Stem Cell Foundation-Robertson Investigator Award.
Pancreatic tumors are composed of a complex mixture of different types of cells. Among the cancer cells, there is a subpopulation known as cancer stem cells. The tumor is thought to have originated from these stem cells, and cancer stem cells are thought to be particularly aggressive and resistant to drugs like chemotherapy.
Dr. Chen and her colleagues identified two markers that are present on the surface, or outside, of cancer stem cells, but not on other cancer cells within the pancreatic tumor. Further testing confirmed that the presence of the two markers, TRA-1-60 and TRA-1-81, labeled cells that were particularly resistant to chemotherapy.
For her funded project, Dr. Chen will first investigate the molecular mechanism that regulates the chemo-resistance of TRA-1-60- and TRA-1-81-positive cancer stem cells. She and her research team will determine exactly how the presence of these markers leads to the cells being able to avoid being killed by chemotherapy. In addition, Dr. Chen previously sought to find a drug or drugs that are particularly effective at killing pancreatic cancer stem cells that express TRA-1-60 and TRA-1-81. Encouragingly, she has identified one drug that is able to kill TRA-1-60- and TRA-1-81-positive cancer stem cells grown in a dish – a drug that is categorized as an antiarrhythmic, a member of a group of pharmaceuticals that are used to suppress abnormal rhythms of the heart. As a next step, Dr. Chen and her colleagues will conduct additional experiments using pancreatic tumor samples derived directly from patients to determine whether this drug is effective at targeting the stem cells and stopping or slowing the growth of the cancer cells in a dish or in a mouse. The proposed studies will lead to an improved understanding of chemo-resistance and potentially repurpose an antiarrhythmic drug in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.