Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Researcher Awarded Grant to Identify New Treatments for Aggressive Breast Cancers

April 9, 2014

Vassiliki Karantza, MD, PhDNew Brunswick, N.J. – A physician-scientist from Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey who is studying ways to advance the molecular understanding of breast cancer has received a $181,000 grant to further this research with the aim of identifying new treatment approaches for more aggressive forms of the disease.  Vassiliki Karantza, MD, PhD was awarded the 2014 Breast Cancer Research Foundation-American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Grant for Translational Breast Cancer Research at the Annual Meeting of the AACR held earlier this week in San Diego.

Dr. Karantza’s laboratory explores the cellular self-preservation process of autophagy as it relates to breast cancer development and treatment. According to the AACR, Karantza was selected to receive the award for her overall accomplishments in the field and based on the relevance of the proposed project to AACR’s mission, and a belief that it will have a significant impact.

Karantza’s team previously discovered in laboratory models that the absence of a copy of the Beclin1 gene – an autophagy regulator – leads to the activation of biological pathways known to promote breast tumor formation.  They also found that loss of this gene accelerates breast cancer tumor development in cooperation with another cancer-promoting gene known as WNT1. Through this work, investigators identified a subgroup of breast cancer patients whose tumors have similar characteristics, namely low levels of Beclin1 and activation of the WNT biological pathway.  These patients typically have a poor prognosis and their tumors are primarily triple-negative breast cancers, which are generally difficult to treat.

The new research will examine drugs and drug combinations that can target the tumor-promoting mechanisms of Beclin1 and WNT1, as well as develop laboratory techniques that can determine which breast cancer patients have tumors with these particular characteristics and are most likely to benefit from targeted treatments. 

“Several aggressive forms of breast cancer, including triple-negative, typically do not respond favorably to standard treatment regimens, thus it is imperative that new targeted therapy options are identified so that treatment outcomes for this patient population can be improved,” noted Karantza, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.  “It is a privilege to receive this award from the AACR and Breast Cancer Research Foundation in order to further explore this possibility.”  

The award will fund Karantza’s work for a two year period beginning this July.

About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey ( is the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. As part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, the Cancer Institute of New Jersey is dedicated to improving the detection, treatment and care of patients with cancer, and to serving as an education resource for cancer prevention. Physician-scientists at the Cancer Institute engage in translational research, transforming their laboratory discoveries into clinical practice, quite literally bringing research to life.  To make a tax-deductible gift to support the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 732-235-8614 or visit Follow us on Facebook at

The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Network is comprised of hospitals throughout the state and provides the highest quality cancer care and rapid dissemination of important discoveries into the community. Flagship Hospital: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. System Partner: Meridian Health (Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center, Riverview Medical Center, Southern Ocean Medical Center, and Bayshore Community Hospital). Major Clinical Research Affiliate Hospitals: Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center, Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Medical Center, and Cooper University Hospital. Affiliate Hospitals: JFK Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), Shore Medical Center, Somerset Medical Center, The University Hospital and University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro. 


Michele Fisher
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