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Annette R. Khaled, PhD
Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences
College of Medicine
University of Central Florida
Goal: To identify new strategies for preventing breast cancer recurrence and metastasis.
Impact: Dr. Khaled has been studying a protein called chaperonin, which is abundant in cancer cells and enables tumors to grow and spread. She and her team have developed a chaperonin inhibitor that, if proven effective in clinical trials, could be used to treat metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
What’s next: She and her colleagues will continue investigating how the chaperonin inhibitor destroys breast cancer cells. They also plan to design a new, minimally invasive tool that could detect when dangerous breast cancer cells spread through the body so doctors would know when a patient’s condition is worsening.
Metastatic breast cancer (MBC)—breast cancer that has spread to other tissues—is the primary cause of death in breast cancer patients. New treatments that would stop the spread of breast cancer and save lives are urgently needed. Dr. Khaled has identified a unique protein, chaperonin, that cancer cells need in order to metastasize and is now developing inhibitors of chaperonin that could one day be used both to treat MBC and as a blood-based marker to monitor tumor response to treatment.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Exploring better treatment strategies for patients with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) or a high risk of metastasis.
Impact: MBC occurs when breast cancer cells spread from the breast to other tissues and organs in the body. While it can be treated, there is no cure for the disease, and virtually all breast cancer deaths are a result of metastasis. Dr. Khaled is designing drugs for MBC that target chaperonin, a large complex that folds proteins into their final three-dimensional shape and is abundant in cancer cells. The chaperonin supplies many of the proteins that cancers need to grow and survive, so inhibiting it would cause cancer cells to die. Her work could ultimately extend the lives of thousands of patients who have MBC.
Current investigation: Dr. Khaled continues her efforts to develop and test chaperonin inhibitors. In addition, she and her colleagues have been working on a minimally invasive diagnostic tool (liquid biopsy test) to detect circulating tumor cells (CTCs)—tumor cells that have escaped the primary tumor and entered the circulation—to alert doctors when a patient’s condition is worsening.
What she’s learned so far: Dr. Khaled’s lab discovered that chaperonin is not only important to cancer cells, because it supplies many of the proteins that cancers need to grow, but that cancer cells depend on chaperonin, while normal cells do not. This makes targeting chaperonin a very promising strategy to stop cancer cell growth.
What’s next: She and her team will investigate how their chaperonin inhibitor destroys breast cancer cells and why these cancer cells are so dependent on the protein-folding activity of chaperonin. They will also continue work on their diagnostic tool.
Dr. Annette R. Khaled joined the faculty of the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Medicine (COM) after completing her pre-doctoral studies at the University of Florida and her post-doctoral studies at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). She is the recipient of multiple competitive grant awards including a career development award (K22) from NCI and multiple independent investigator grants (RO1) from NCI, NIGMS and recently, NIBIB. Research in the Khaled lab focuses on treatments for metastatic cancer. Using her expertise in cancer biology and immunology and employing the latest research tools and cancer models, Dr. Khaled is developing a new therapeutic approach to impair the ability of cancer cells to spread to other organs in the body by harnessing the body’s own immune system. She works with a team of scientists with complementary expertise in immunotherapy and nanomedicine as well as clinical partners at Florida Hospital and Orlando VAMC to produce the next generation drugs to treat patients with advanced and incurable forms of cancer. Dr. Khaled is also a dedicated mentor training pre-doctoral and postdoctoral scientists for careers in academia and biotechnology. She serves on multiple study sections, society scientific boards and editorial boards. She was coordinator of the Biomedical PhD program, past president of the COM Faculty Council, is a UCF faculty senator, and chairs the UCF graduate council. Dr. Khaled was also a past recipient of a Florida Breast Cancer Foundation award.