A University of Akron professor has been awarded a nearly $330,000 federal grant to study the role of connective tissue cells in the growth of cancer.

Research in recent years has shown that these cells — called stromal cells — play a major role in cancer growth and progression.

Hossein Tavana, the UA professor of biomedical engineering who won the National Science Foundation grant, said a major part of his research will be testing how effective certain drug combinations are at eliminating cancer cells and also blocking the signal that stromal cells send to cancer cells, prompting them to grow.

Historically, treatments have focused on cancerous cells “and largely neglected the stromal cells,” Tavana said.

Tavana will use his patented technology to make 3-D experimental cellular models that mimic the form of tumors and replicate the interactions between stromal and cancer cells.

“Our studies using this model will allow us to fundamentally understand how stromal cells render cancer cells proliferative and drug-resistant,” Tavana said.

The project will model cells of a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer — called triple negative — and cancer-associated fibroblasts that are a type of stromal cell.

Unlike several other types of breast cancers, there are currently no targeted treatments for triple negative breast cancer, Tavana said.

Tavana’ said his project may offer new ways of treating this type of breast cancer.

In addition to providing training opportunities for UA students studying biomedical engineering, the NSF grant will allow at-risk Akron Public Schools high school students to participate in hands-on research.

Tavana is working with the nonprofit Project GRAD Akron on this initiative that will bring three students and their teacher to UA for a two-week summer camp in each year of the three-year grant period.

“Engaging them in hands-on engineering, research and education will hopefully show them exciting possibilities” for their future, Tavana said.

 

Katie Byard is at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook at www.facebook.com.