Towards stress-hormone inhibiting cancer treatment
On September 15th, 2022, Dr. Melanie Flint from the University of Brighton was announced as the winner of Genevia's first ever grant call. We had the pleasure to interview her and hear more about her team’s fascinating work on cancer and stress hormones.
Dr. Melanie Flint (center) with her lab members
Dr. Melanie Flint started her career studying the immune system and allergic contact dermatitis. However, at the back of her mind, it had always bothered her how a close friend of hers had died of metastatic breast cancer, and how nothing could have been done about it. After five years of working on stress and stress hormones in allergic contact dermatitis at the Center of Disease Control in West Virginia, USA, she decided to move her research towards cancer instead. Dr. Flint got the opportunity to build her own, independent research program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, and later settled her lab in the UK. She’s now a reader in cancer biology at the University of Brighton.
Dr. Flint’s lab usually has 9 to 10 members, including postdocs, PhD students and medical students, all sharing a keen interest in stress and cancer. They work with experts from various different fields to better understand cancer biology.
– It’s not just my work, it’s our teams work, she highlights.
– During the pandemic, people’s stress levels have significantly risen, and we have known for a while that stress can facilitate cancer progression. We’re trying to find a way to mitigate that with stress hormone blockers, Dr. Flint explains.
– We mainly focus on women’s cancers, breast and ovarian cancer, but lately we’ve also been moving on to prostate cancer. Currently, we’re very interested in stress and breast cancer metastasis. We want to see how stress and stress hormones, particularly cortisol and noradrenaline, can promote breast-to-brain metastasis.
Perfectly timed grant call
The work that is going to be done in collaboration with Genevia is a part of a larger project, in which Dr. Flint’s lab has grown cancer cells to show that they’re more likely to migrate and invade when treated with stress hormones, and that this can be inhibited with a stress hormone antagonist.
– In a nutshell, we’re going to look at brain samples from four groups of subjects with breast cancer moving to the brain: a control group, those that are stressed, those that are stressed and treated with an antagonist to block the stress hormone, and those that are treated with the antagonist alone. Together with a talented PhD student, Gheed Al-hity, we performed next-gen sequencing and TMT proteomics to look at the gene expression changes between the groups, Dr. Flint summarizes.
The timing of the Genevia Grant call happened to be perfect for Dr. Flint’s lab, and they didn’t have to think twice about submitting an application.
– A while back somebody from Genevia had contacted me, and I was already then interested in the company because I don’t really know anything about bioinformatics myself. When the grant call was launched, I just thought that why not, this would be brilliant to us, and immediately submitted the application. We really couldn’t believe it when we actually won, Dr. Flint says with a smile.
– This collaboration is going to be super helpful for us and a really good learning curve for me on bioinformatics. We are really thankful for this opportunity and support for our work, and looking forward to seeing our results.