Relay for Life helps ACS fund groundbreaking cancer research

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A small step led to a giant leap in a UAB laboratory supported by grant funding from the American Cancer Society (ACS).

andra_frost_webAssociate Professor Andra Frost, M.D., is one of many UAB researchers who have benefitted from the ACS, the nation’s largest private, not-for-profit source of funds for scientists studying cancer.

Frost’s Anatomic Pathology lab has shown that the Gli1 protein and Gli-mediated transcription — known for their roles in the progression of skin and pancreatic cancer — also play a role in the progression of ER-negative and triple-negative breast cancers.

“Our data indicate that Gli1 and Gli-mediated transcription are important in the invasion, migration, metastasis and survival of these breast cancers,” Frost says. “Now, we’re looking at inhibitors to see if they would be effective, targeted therapies in this sub group of breast cancers that doesn’t have any. We couldn’t have uncovered this information without support from the ACS.”

Funding for this and other types of cancer research at UAB is supported by events such as Relay for Life, scheduled from 6 p.m. Friday, April 1 to 6 a.m. Saturday, April 2, in the UAB Mini Park. Registration for the event is $10 and is under way now online at You can form a team or join one of more than 20 accepting members.

“The ACS is a vital resource for cancer researchers who are in the early stages of their research careers,” Frost says. “It provides funding that enables them to generate preliminary data so that they can compete for funding from other sources. ACS support enabled us to obtain additional funding that moved the work of our laboratory forward.”

Frost’s research offers hope that inhibitors of Gli-mediated transcription can be developed to deliver targeted therapies to treat triple-negative and ER-negative breast cancers and prevent metastasis — the process where the cancer spreads from the primary tumor to distant locations in the body.

Frost is working with a chemist at the North Dakota State University, Mukund Sibi, to synthesize and test compounds that will inhibit Gli-mediated transcription.

Researchers discovered several years ago that Gli1 and Gli-mediated transcription is important for cancer invasion — a process by which the cancer cells leave the primary tumor and travel through the normal tissue surrounding the tumor. After that, the cancer cells can gain access to a blood vessel and make their way through the blood stream to another organ and spread there.

If a compound can be created to prevent recurrence and metastasis, the long-term outlook for many cancer patients could be dramatically improved, she says.