MELBOURNE — The Community Foundation for Brevard awarded the Florida Institute of Technology researchers nearly $80,000 under the Medical Research Grant to Find Cause and/or Cure for Alzheimer’s, Cancer, and Other Pervasive Diseases initiative. The program is funded from the Kenneth R. Finken and Dorothy Hallam Finken Endowment Fund based at the Community Foundation.

One grant, for $40,000, will assist a trio of Florida Tech researchers in their efforts to develop new anti-cancer drugs. Eric Guisbert, Nasri Nesnas and Karen Kim Guisbert, in the department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering and Sciences, have initiated a drug discovery program to inhibit heat-shock factor 1 protein expression.

“HSF1 is a protein that is important for cancer cell growth. Eighty percent of women with invasive breast cancer have abnormally high amounts of HSF1,” said Dr. Eric Guisbert, associate professor. “Women that have breast cancer tumors with the highest levels of HSF1 have the worst outcomes with current therapies.”

HSF1 is a key component of how normal cells respond to stress, but HSF1 accumulates in cancer patients and cancer cells become addicted to this protein. This makes cancer cells more sensitive to HSF1 inhibition than normal cells. This new strategy could help patients who do not respond well to current therapies.

“We have made a new discovery about how HSF1 is controlled. We then used this discovery as a basis to try to identify a new anticancer drug. Thus far, we have identified several lead compounds that can inhibit HSF1,” Dr. Guisbert said. “Now, we are undertaking the next steps in the long road that we hope could eventually result in a lifesaving new therapy for breast cancer.”

A second grant, for $39,523, will assist Dr. Kunal Mitra, professor of biomedical engineering, in additional cancer research. Cryotherapy, the freezing the cancerous tumors, and radiofrequency ablation, which uses radio waves to destroy the tumor, have been used to treat some cases of liver cancer but with varying degrees of success.

The ability to model such tumor micro-environments in vitro is an advantage to the study of tumor progression and chemotherapy drug development. An accurate representation of the tumor microenvironment will be achieved using a 3D cell culture model which will allow for investigating the optimal temperature range which will result in liver cancer cell death.

“The models for drug development and testing that have been predominantly used in the past have generally consisted of 2D cell culture limiting cell-cell inter-connectedness,” Dr. Mitra said. “With 3D printed tissue that closely mimics the function of a real human liver, pharmaceutical companies can begin doing pilot studies right away, narrowing the field down to the most promising drugs well before they ever get to human clinical trials.”

Dr. Guisbert added that this new research would not have been possible without the four-year support of the Community Foundation of Brevard.

“We would not have even tried to turn our basic science discovery into a drug discovery program without their support,” Dr. Guisbert said.

Over the last 11 years, Florida Tech researchers have been awarded 17 individual medical research grants via the Community Foundation that have a combined value of nearly $510,000.

“The Community Foundation for Brevard is proud of our ongoing partnership with Florida Tech and deeply honored to be stewards of the Finken family legacy, which enables researchers to pursue promising medical advances in pervasive disease research,” said Theresa Grimison, president and CEO of the Community Foundation.

For more information call Adam Lowenstein at (321) 674-8964 or visit

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