Siyuan Zhang, Nancy Dee Assistant Professor of Cancer Research, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences and affiliated member of Harper Cancer Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame, recently won a grant from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI). Awarded Pilot Funding for Research Use of Core Facilities, Zhang is planning on using his funding to learn more about brain metastasis in cancer patients. The award was designed to promote the use of technologies and knowledge made available by Indiana CTSI-designed cores available at partner institutions.
Zhang will be conducting research specifically on breast cancer and brain metastasis, the process by which cancer cells from the primary site somehow migrate to the brain. “Imagine the cell . . . to leave from the breast and travel through the blood circulation all the way and ultimately colonize in the brain tissue,” Zhang said. When metastasis happens, it creates a myriad of complications that are very difficult to treat. Zhang’s research will involve investigating how the brain tissue responds to the tumor, a process which he calls brain inflammation. “We want to know what are the changes. How those different cells behave differently to the tumor.”
This is no easy task, however, because of the many different types of cells in the brain. Nevertheless, using a technique called single cell sequencing, Zhang will be able to examine each individual cell separately, which will allow him to better understand brain metastasis and potentially pick out “subtle differences, so maybe very critical for the disease progression.”
Zhang is grateful for CTSI and what it has afforded researchers like him. “They encourage investigators to think about something with potentially high risk and at the same time potentially high rewards,” Zhang said.
While the project is slated to go for two years, Zhang is optimistic that he and his team can get most of the work done within one year. He hopes that his research will yield clues that can lead to new treatments for breast cancer. “If we find how the brain cells respond to the tumor development, then we can potentially identify a new drug,” Zhang said.