Grant for The Mary Kay Foundation funds breast cancer research

By Sharon Reynolds

Michael Lunceford

The Mary Kay Foundation is dedicated to supporting top medical scientists searching for a cure for cancers affecting women. Dr. Melanie Cobb, Professor of Pharmacology and a renowned researcher in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, was awarded $100,000 to study the role of the WNK1 gene in the progression of breast cancer, making this the eleventh year that UT Southwestern Medical Center has received a grant from The Mary Kay Foundation.

The WNK1 gene was recently identified as a “signature gene” expressed in a particularly aggressive class of breast cancers that grow rapidly, tend to affect younger patients, and have the worst prognosis of all breast cancers. Dr. Cobb and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ankita Jaykumar, who is leading this project, hope to develop ways to block the spread of cancer cells and to determine the potential of the WNK1 pathway as a therapeutic target in treating some of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

“We’re honored to present Dr. Cobb with a gift to continue her important work,” said Michael Lunceford, President of The Mary Kay Foundation Board of Directors and member of the UTSW President’s Advisory Board. “The Mary Kay Foundation’s mission is to enrich the lives of women everywhere by finding a cure for cancers affecting women. We look forward to closely following Dr. Cobb’s groundbreaking research regarding the WNK1 gene.”

Previous UT Southwestern research funded by The Mary Kay Foundation includes work on a method to prevent the spread of breast cancer to bones and research on predicting treatment responses in cervical cancer.

Dr. Cobb

“We are deeply grateful to The Mary Kay Foundation for their long-standing support of UT Southwestern faculty research,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “The work of scientists like Dr. Cobb generates advances in the prevention, detection, and treatment of the most deadly forms of breast cancer. This gift is an example of the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to saving lives by supporting research that is making a significant impact on our understanding of cancers affecting women.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 266,120 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. With improved screening and treatment, survival rates have increased dramatically. Today the 5-year survival rate for most newly diagnosed patients is almost 90 percent. Still, more than 40,000 deaths are expected this year, and new treatment options for certain types of difficult-to-treat breast cancers are urgently needed.

More than 150 research centers competed for 12 grants in the amount of $100,000 each that were awarded by The Mary Kay Foundation last fall. Since the Foundation began in 1996, it has granted nearly $74 million to organizations fighting cancer and violence against women.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Cobb holds the Jane and Bill Browning, Jr. Chair in Medical Science.