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Dr. Funk the leader of an NIH-funded research program with a strong focus on metastatic breast cancer that spans the research spectrum from bench to bedside. Current translational projects are focusing on investigating the utility of turmeric dietary supplements as adjuvant therapeutics for the prevention of breast cancer bone metastases. In addition to employing standard animal models of breast cancer bone metastases, which are uniformly ER-, Dr. Funk's laboratory is actively developing models of ER+ bone metastases that better mimic the clinical situation since not only do a majority of women with breast cancer have ER+ primary tumors, but ER+ tumors are also more likely to metastasize to bone. Her investigation of bone protective effects of turmeric in breast cancer is an outgrowth of earlier translational studies in her laboratory that elucidated bone protective effects of turmeric in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Dr. Funk and her team has also moved these translational arthritis investigations into the clinical arena and is currently studying the pharmacokinetics and safety of turmeric in a clinical RA trial that also takes advantage of University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC) faculty expertise and involves collaboration with Drs. Sherry Chow, Cynthia Thomson (both Cancer Prevention and Control, CPC) and Robert Livingston (Therapeutic Development). They anticipate that data from this trial, as well as an additional clinical trial testing effects of turmeric on survivorship in women following initial breast cancer treatment (a study spearheaded by another CPC member, Dr. Thaddeus Pace) will provide initial data that will be used to develop future clinical investigations of turmeric’s bone protective effects in breast cancer.
Dr. Funk's expertise as a clinical endocrinologist has also allowed her to build additional ongoing collaborations with other CPC members and trainees, including studies evaluating the effects of obesity and insulin resistance on bone development in Hispanic girls (CPC members Jen Bea and Denise Roe) and effects of metformin on breast cancer risk on obese women (committee member for Diana Villa, a mentee of Sherry Chow).
Mentoring of pre-doctoral candidates in Cancer Biology and Nutritional Sciences is a critical element in all of these projects (she is mentoring 6 graduate students at present) and stands as evidence that the complementary and multidisciplinary expertise of CPC members, as well as their extreme collegiality, provides an extremely rich environment for the training of pre and post-doctoral candidates.