Julie Champion Receives Grant for Breast Cancer Therapy Research

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Julie Champion a research grant as part of its Biomaterials Program. Champion, an assistant professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, will investigate engineering effector protein nanoclusters for breast cancer therapy with the grant, valued at $300,000.

“Given that breast cancer is the most common cancer in U.S. women and the second leading cause of cancer death, many people could benefit from the development of effector nanoclusters,” Champion says. “This work validates the idea of using bacterial proteins for therapeutic applications and the concept can be expanded for a variety of drug development and delivery needs for other diseases.”

A select group of bacterial pathogens secrete proteins called effectors during infection, which enable them to survive and grow in a hostile host. Some of these effectors have the capability to interfere with the same pathways that are altered in breast cancer.

“The goal of my research is to use these effector proteins as novel breast cancer therapies,” Champion says. “In order for these proteins to be used as anticancer drugs, the normal bacterial delivery mechanisms must be replaced by a drug delivery system able to deliver biologically active protein to breast cancer cells.” 

To engineer this modified drug delivery system, the effector proteins must be linked together into nano-sized clusters that can enter breast cancer cells and then fall apart to allow the individual proteins to act inside the cells. By fabricating effector nanoclusters, Champion will be able to access their ability to restore normal behaviors in breast cancer cells, such as increased apoptotic cell death, decreased proliferation, decreased metastasis, and increased sensitivity to chemotherapeutics.

After receiving her PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2007, Champion completed a postdoctoral appointment as a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellow at the California Institute of Technology. She joined the faculty at Georgia Tech in 2009, where she focuses her research on protein engineering strategies to synthesize novel materials capable of specific interactions with cells or other proteins. The overall goal of her research is to reverse disease through interference with inflammatory pathways or promotion of healing mechanisms.

This project was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (Award No. DMR-1105248). The content is solely the responsibility of the principal investigators and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF.


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