Meet A Researcher Series – Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, PhD

Interview with Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, PhD, Asst. Professor, Dept. of food Sciences and Human Nutrition, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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 Q: How did you find out about the Komen Tissue Bank, and why did it interest you?

I heard about KTB first time in an AACR meeting few years ago. Dr. Harikrishna Nakshatri was in a discussion panel and talked about how the normal tissue specimen was available from KTB. Few years later, I contacted Jill Henry for a grant application. She urged me to look at the KTB database. Then, I realized that the databank has not only tissue but also serum samples. For another related project, I was looking for serum samples from cancer-free African-American and Caucasian women to analyze. Rest is history…

Q: What types of samples have you obtained from the Komen Tissue Bank?

So far we have obtained serum samples.

Q: What do you hope to discover/have you discovered in your research?

My lab is interested in the impact of serum composition on breast cancer initiation and progression. We profile metabolites and proteins in serum samples and then try to identify molecules that would affect different properties of breast cancer cells (proliferation, migration, pathway activation etc.) So far we found certain metabolites in serum that would predispose obese women to ER(+) breast cancer. Hopefully, this story will be out soon to share more in detail.

Q: How will the Komen Tissue Bank samples help with your research? What value do they add?

A lot. It is really hard to find serum samples from untreated (surgery, chemotherapy, endocrine therapy) individuals. When Jill Henry put me in contact with Dr. Natascia Marino for a very precious set I could not believe my luck. It is a sample set in which women donated blood when they were cancer-free. Unfortunately, later they developed breast cancer. It is a perfect set to identify breast cancer predisposition associated metabolites and proteins in the serum.

Q: Please explain in lay terms how your research might impact treatment options for BC patients in the future?

Once we identify serum factors that might contribute to breast cancer predisposition, next we can look at the impact of life style changes (dieting, exercise, bariatric surgery) on these biomarkers. In addition, we believe that serum composition gives us some clues about why African-American women have more aggressive breast cancer subtypes and a higher incidence of breast cancer-related deaths. These precious samples from KTB enable us to identify factors and molecular mechanisms that would lead to better diagnosis and treatment options for breast cancer disparity populations.

Q: Our readers would love to know some personal information about you. Tell us anything at all that you feel comfortable talking about.

I love exotic plants and try to pinch a leaf or two from new plants that I encounter (obviously not cacti!) and try to propagate them. I have a 7-year-old daughter who keeps things in perspective in my life. I always wanted to be a cancer researcher since I was 15.

Thank you so much, Dr. Madak-Erdogan!