La Jolla Scientist Awarded $2.3 Million Grant to Continue Her Breakthrough Cancer Research

June 30, 2022

A La Jolla scientist has received a $2.3 million grant to further her research on cancer metabolism that could foster the creation of new cancer therapies.

Brooke Emerling is a scientist at the La Jolla-based Sanford Burnham Prebys research institute. Her work, which is focused on cellular signaling in cancer, has so far resulted in a key discovery that could shed light on cancer growth, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“We’re helping piece together how cancer works at the molecular level,” Emerling said. “The pathways we’re working on have been poorly understood so far, and investigating them could possibly provide new therapeutic strategies for cancer.”

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a $2.3 million grant to fund Emerling’s work for four years. Image of Brooke Emerling, Ph.D. is courtesy of Sanford Burnham Prebys

The research could lead to the development of a new range of therapies for cancers and may also shed light on a “longstanding mystery” in cancer metabolism.

Emerling’s breakthrough was the discovery that a family of proteins called PI5P4Ks, which are activated in breast cancer cells, interact directly with parts of a signaling system called the hippo pathway, which helps organs grow and controls their size.

One of cancer’s key characteristics is that it grows uninhibited. The hippo pathway may contribute to cancer growth when it’s not working correctly.

Because of its essential role in human biology, targeting the hippo pathway with medication or drugs could potentially have an effect on an array of different cancers or other diseases.

“It was a pretty serendipitous discovery,” Emerling said. “We’ve found a connection between these seemingly unrelated elements of cancer metabolism, and this gives us a whole new angle we can use to tackle cancer.”

Sanford Burnham Prebys is an independent biomedical research institute that has provided scientific innovation, as well as breakthrough research in cancer, neuroscience, biotechnology, and other areas for more than 40 years.

“This work has great potential to help people, and we’re grateful that this new funding will help us do the research we need to do so we can make that happen,” Emerling added.

About the author: Mike Peterson is a freelance journalist and writer based in North San Diego County. He’s written and worked for a number of local media outlets, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, the North Coast Current, and the Oceanside Blade.