Groundbreaking Research at NDSU Could Change the Future of Cancer

Patients that die because of these two diseases are dying because of the metastasis

FARGO, ND — In the world we currently live in, there is no cure for cancer but in many forms, such as breast and prostate cancer, it can be cured if caught early.

But what happens when that cancer spreads?

It could mean the end of a life…but NDSU is changing what that could mean in the future.

KVRR’s Jessie Cohen tells us how one of their recent discoveries could lead to life saving answers.

Cancer…it’s a disease thousands are living with.

“It pretty much turns your life upside down,” said Kristin Erickson, a patient at Sanford Medical Center.

A terrifying reality that some patients say nothing can prepare you for.

“I live in constant fear because from day to day, scan to scan, blood test to blood test, you don’t have any control over what’s going on in your body,” Kristin said.

Kristin Erickson has stage 4 breast cancer.

“There aren’t even words to describe the feelings and the thoughts that go through your mind,” Kristin said.

She is a mother of two, a wife to a loving husband and a supportive friend.

She has gotten the terrible news not once, not twice but three times.

“It is like hearing a death sentence because you know that there isn’t a cure so you right away think the worst,” Kristin said.

But a cure may be in the near future.

“It shouldn’t be a death sentence,” said Kalpana Katti, a University Distinguished Professor at NDSU.

Research at North Dakota State University is taking us one step closer.

“Studies show that when metastasis happens in cancer, metastasis means the cancer spreads from the original location and goes to a remote location, and that’s when death happens in patients,” Kalpana said.

Metastasis happens in all types of cancer but NDSU is mainly focusing on prostate and breast cancer, both of which have a high rate of spreading to bones.

“Patients that die because of these two diseases are dying because of the metastasis,” Kalpana said.

And for many, the spreading of the cancer gives patients only weeks left…taking lives before they have a chance at fighting.

“She had metastasized breast cancer and she thought she had about three years to live and at the end of summer I attended her funeral,” Kalpana said.

There was not much research done on secondary sites, so Kalpana found herself trying to find the answers.

Over the last decade, her curiosity became an innovation.

“This is going to be an avenue to maybe design new drugs,” Kalpana said.

Kalpana and her research team at NDSU are the first to recreate prostate cancer metastasis and breast cancer metastasis to bone outside of the body.

“We were able to make bone that is in every way identical to human bone,” Kalpana siad.

They take a scaffold like this which is made out of clay and add human cells. Which over time creates bone and once that bone is made they add the cancer cells which create a tumor such as this”

Essentially, they are recreating the tumors on the bone, which gives them an avenue to test drugs without being inside of a patient.

“We give it the right environment; we sort of simulate how the environment is in the body,” Kalpana said.

Researchers have not been able to obtain this from humans and when they try to test it on animals, the animals die before metastasis occurs.

“But now with this test bed, we have the sample and we have the sample we can create this on a daily basis so three times a day, I mean that’s impossible to get from a patient,” Kalpana said.

For a patient like Kristin, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, this technology could have changed her journey.

“When you go through treatment the first time you feel like you’re cured ya I know I thought I can beat this. I can do this,” Kristin said.

Kalpana explains that most other studies focus on the primary site and today’s anti–cancer drugs…

“They really work at the primary site, at the secondary site, they are ineffective,” Kalpana said.

After Kristin’s first round of treatment, her scans came back clear, but like many others…

“I always had that fear of it coming back,” Kristin said.

…Four and a half years later, her worst nightmare had come true.

“I had a little lesion on my skin and I had that tested and that came back positive for the same cancer as my breast cancer and they had me a do a pet scan and the PET scan pretty much lit up like a Christmas tree. It showed cancer in my live, five of my ribs, my lower spine, and lymph nodes in my chest,” Kristin said.

After she was re–diagnosed with stage 4, she went through multiple treatments.

“They were extremely tough on me. Pretty much knocked me down for five to seven days,” Kristin said.

But NDSU’s findings could change that process for future patients.

“Potentially this could be used for personalized medicine so instead of oncologists doing trial and error of a cocktail of drugs on a patient, they could do it from their patients own cells it now it’s not in their body it’s outside,” Kalpana said.

The researchers say the testbed will help enable discovery of drugs for each patient, appropriate for metastasis.

“So the future is basically you don’t have to die. We’ve cured a lot of diseases in our civilization so why is cancer the worst?” Kalpana said.

“That gives me hope that there could be a cure out there for me and thousands and thousands of other women,” Kristin said.

Not just patients with breast and prostate cancer.

“Could possibly be used for all other cancers because all other cancers metastasize somewhere in the body,” Kristin said.

Patients, doctors and researchers say the biggest question is why?


Since they can’t answer the why, they are answering the how.

How they can change research and medicine to fight this deadly disease.

“We can possible save those 48,000 people that die each year of prostate cancer or breast cancer at metastasis,” Kalpana said.

Kalpana and her team have been a part of many different types of research but this project stands out.

“I think everyone knows somebody who has had cancer so I think that is why so that is very unique and different and kind of emotional, science is always emotional but this is at a different level,” Kalpana said.

Kristin says she doesn’t know what the future holds…

“I’m on treatment indefinitely and I will be until there is a cure that’s found,” Kristin said.

…but she hopes to be a part of the research that saves lives from the disease that’s changed hers.

“That’s the really tough part because you don’t know if you’re going to be here for a year, five years, ten years, and so any advancements that they make, it gives you hope to keep fighting,” Kristin said.

NDSU’s findings have been published and recognized throughout the country.

They are excited about the recognition but hope the university will be a part of bringing these findings to life.

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