Komen grant supports search for personalized treatments

By Debbie Bolles / August 2011

Witnessing the mixed success of chemotherapy treatment in breast-cancer patients led Dr. Stina Singel, a postdoctoral trainee in UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, to give up a medical oncology practice and head back to the research laboratory in search of more successful, patient-personalized treatments.

Now armed with a $180,000 clinical postdoctoral fellowship grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Dr. Singel aims to identify key tumor suppressor genes in breast cancer as biomarkers to help determine a patient’s prognosis or response to chemotherapy.

Stina Singel, PhD

“My long-term goal is to develop and lead a breast-cancer research program that focuses on improving and individualizing treatments for breast cancer,” said Dr. Singel, whose passion for breast cancer research arose during medical oncology fellowship training in 2006 as she watched several patients struggle with the effects of standard treatments. “I witnessed how sequential treatments failed patients who had as many ambitions and as much love for life as I do. I experienced firsthand that breast cancer is not a single disease entity but a heterogeneous group of entities with wide variation of response to existing treatment options.”

Under the mentorship of Dr. Jerry Shay, vice chairman of cell biology, Dr. Singel will use this research grant to annotate tumor suppressors in the breast cancer genome and then test to determine if altering the expression of these genes affects the sensitivity of tumor cells to chemotherapy. Data from the study may provide information for new treatment regimens to be used in clinical trials, she said.

Dr. Shay called Dr. Singel a talented physician-scientist who is intent on developing new approaches for treating advanced breast cancer in patients who are resistant to typical therapies.

“She is enthusiastic, bright, interactive, questioning and is willing and eager to put forth the long hours that are necessary to see a line of experimentation through to successful completion,” Dr. Shay said.

Dr. Shay holds the Southland Financial Corporation Distinguished Chair in Geriatrics.