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New UH Initiative on Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Sheds Light on Personalized Treatment

For Immediate Release: July 2, 2024; Houston, Texas 

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer [TNBC] can be a daunting, if not devastating diagnosis sheerly due to the rapid pace at which the cancer grows.  TNBC is one of the most aggressive forms of invasive breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.  

This rare subtype of breast cancer disproportionately affects African American women, as stated in Nature. In fact, African American women are twice as likely to develop this aggressive form of breast cancer compared to whites and more likely than whites to die from the disease, according to a new National Institutes of Health study.  

The most pivotal question—why are African American women more vulnerable to this type of breast cancer and how do we personalize treatment directly at the cell level? Through a HEALTH-RCMI Pilot Program Award, UH researcher, Dr. Kumaraswamy Naidu Chitrala, investigated the root causes of health disparities in triple-negative breast cancer at the cellular level among African American and white patients.  

Chitrala is an Assistant professor with the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering. The project was funded $50,000 through a HEALTH-RCMI Pilot Program Award. 

“What happens is that African Americans experience more vulnerability compared to non-Hispanic whites related to this form of breast cancer,” Chitrala said. “There are few available treatments for TNBC. We need new strategies to reduce existing disparities in outcomes, particularly in Black women.” 

Through this innovative cancer study, Chitrala and his research team procured samples from the FOX Chase Cancer Center and examined samples from the African American and white population. The team then compiled data about demographic information including age, race, gender, and ethnicity. The next step was to isolate the RNA from the samples and perform auto-sequencing on the samples.    

“The most targeted therapies for clinical trials are 2 therapies--one is PARP Inhibitors therapy and the Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor therapy where inhibitors work by blocking checkpoint proteins,” Chitrala said. “We cultured the samples and tested them with PARP Inhibitors therapy, and we also treated them with a combination therapy. Then, we wanted to see how the gene signatures would be expressed among African Americans and whites.”   


Chitrala's objectives in this study included examining the genes driving the disparities among African Americans and white patients at the single-cell level. The other aim was to determine the alterations in the tumor microenvironment among the triple-negative cancer cells which were treated with inhibitors. Chitrala hopes to support his next phase of innovative cancer research with RO1 and CPRIT grants.    

“This project is translational science, and we plan to translate it to the clinical setting and then take it to clinical trials,” Chitrala said. “We hope to see what happens to patients with triple breast cancer who are exposed to certain medications and drugs.” 

Since the completion of his Pilot Research project, Chitrala has presented more of his significant findings on triple-negative breast cancer and how it behaves in the tumor microenvironment. The aim of Chitrala’s initiative was to help create meaningful research which informs personalized treatment. Chitrala’s objective has a uniquely personal perspective since his grandmother battled breast cancer. 

“I was excited to be a part of this research project,” Chitrala said. “Once our research comes to fruition, we will see more personalized medicine. Hopefully, it will help more people like my grandmother, and we will create more plans of personalized treatment.” 

Read more about Dr. Chitrala’s research initiative here. 

--Alison Medley 

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Alison Medley at 713.320.0933 or email 


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