Department of Defense Grant Awarded to Study Metastasis in Bladder Cancer

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

A Weill Cornell Medicine researcher has received a $610,000 grant from the Department of Defense to investigate the mechanisms causing DNA instability that potentially drives metastasis in bladder cancer. The research also aims to identify methods to intercept this spread. The Peer-Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP) Idea Award funds innovative, high-risk, high-reward basic cancer research. One of the goals of the PRCRP program is to decrease the burden of cancer on service members and their families, veterans, and the American public.

 “Approximately 40 percent of patients with muscle-invasive bladder cancer develop metastases, where the cancer spreads to other organs, including lymph nodes, liver, lungs and bone. Metastases are the main cause of death in these patients, so understanding the mechanism underlying metastatic spread and the heterogeneity of metastatic tumors will be key to treating patients,” said the principal investigator, Dr. Bishoy Faltas, director of bladder cancer research at the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, the Gellert Family-John P. Leonard, M.D. Research Scholar and an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

He is collaborating in this study with other researchers, including Dr. Vivek Mittal and Dr. Olivier Elemento at Weill Cornell Medicine and Dr. Samuel Bakhoum at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Dr. Faltas has been studying APOBEC3 enzymes, which are produced widely in human cells and induce mutations in DNA. This activity is at least in part an innate defense against infecting retroviruses, such as HIV. The body’s cells are thought to have safety mechanisms for protecting their chromosomal DNA from these enzymes. However, Dr. Faltas and other researchers have found evidence in recent years that some cancers, including bladder cancers, co-opt these enzymes to boost their mutation rates—making it easier for them to evolve. This genomic instability may contribute to the cancer’s ability to spread to other organs and establish a new tumor. In this project, he will explore the role of individual members of this enzyme family in driving bladder tumor metastasis and the possibility of targeting these enzymes to prevent metastases.

“If we can prevent metastases, it would transform bladder cancer into a localized curable disease,” said Dr. Faltas, who is also a member of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine and a medical oncologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Many Weill Cornell Medicine physicians and scientists maintain relationships and collaborate with external organizations to foster scientific innovation and provide expert guidance. The institution makes these disclosures public to ensure transparency. For this information, see the profiles for Dr. Bishoy Faltas and Dr. Olivier Elemento.

The grant reported in this newsroom story was awarded by the United States Department of Defense through the peer-reviewed cancer research program (PRCRP), grant number W81XWH-22-PRCRP-IA.