Illinois professor granted $4.5M for breast cancer research

The U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program awarded Erik Nelson, PhD, the $4.5 million Era of Hope Scholar Award Oct. 30 to lead a research team that will study metastatic breast cancer treatment and prevention. 

Dr. Nelson, molecular and integrative physiology professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, will study several key gaps related to breast cancer.

“One of the big things is determining why and how breast cancer cells can lay dormant for years and then suddenly reemerge,” said Dr. Nelson. “The other aspect of that is we’re trying to eliminate the mortality associated with metastatic breast cancer, which accounts for more than 90 percent of all breast cancer-associated deaths.” 

Dr. Nelson’s research team previously identified cholesterol as an important part of cancer and immune cell regulation, which helps to explain why patients with high cholesterol levels experience recurrence sooner. Supporting research found that 27-hydroxycholesterol, a metabolite of cholesterol, can activate the estrogen receptor that drives growth in breast cancer patients, the statement said. 

Part of Dr. Nelson’s upcoming research initiative includes a project that attempts to hinder the synthesis of 27-HC and develop drugs that target key regulators of cholesterol metabolism. 


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