A&T and UNC-CH researchers launch investigation into triple-negative breast cancer’s link to viral RNA

Researchers at N.C. A&T and UNC-Chapel Hill have been awarded a grant to investigate a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. The team will work to determine the role of viral factors in the virulent nature of triple-negative breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer represents 15% to 20% of breast carcinomas. It is prevalent in younger women, African American women, and in women with BRCA1 gene mutations. This type of cancer is very aggressive, has a poor prognosis, fails to respond to conventional therapy, and appears in many forms. The causes and molecular basis of this cancer are currently unknown, though multiple factors, including viruses, may be involved.

Specifically, this pilot study will investigate the prevalence of three particular types of viral genetic material in triple negative breast tumors and determine what role these passenger virus genetic materials play in the cancer’s malignant properties and survival.

The study will be led by Dr. Perpetua Muganda, professor of biology at N.C. A&T. The team will include Dr. Scott Harrison, assistant professor of biology at A&T; Dr. Dukka KC, assistant professor of computational science and engineering at A&T; and Dr. Jan Prins, professor of computer science at UNC-CH.

The $50,000 in funding for the study comes from the North Carolina Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (NC TraCS) and was matched by funds from the universities. It is part of the NC TraCS Translational Research Pilot Program, created to accelerate the transfer of research findings to clinical practice. The institute is funded by the National Institutes of Health through its Clinical and Translational Science Award program.

From the proposal abstract:

“The objective of the project is to determine the role of viral factors in mediating the aggressive nature of the triple-negative breast cancer phenotype. The central hypothesis to be tested is that specific viral RNAs (mRNA, lncRNA, and miRNAs) present preferentially in the aggressive triple-negative breast cancer phenotype modulate the malignant properties, survival, and chemo-resistance of these tumors.

“Two specific aims are proposed:

(1) To determine the identity, expression profiles, prevalence, and sequence variation of viral RNAs present specifically in triple-negative breast carcinomas as compared to matched control samples and
(2) To determine the role and mode of action of specific candidate viral RNAs in mediating the malignant properties, survival, and chemo-resistance of triple-negative breast cancer cells.

“The findings obtained will contribute toward a better understanding of the molecular basis of triple-negative breast cancer. This, in turn, will exert a positive vertical impact toward the development of novel protocols for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of TNBC.”

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