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Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer CenterVanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

Julie Ann  Sterling

Julie Ann Sterling, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Medicine (Clinical Pharmacology )
Assistant Professor of Cancer Biology

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Research Specialty

Cancer metastasis to bone and tumor-induced bone disease.

Research Description

Our research focuses on tumors that metastasize to bone and the subsequent changes in bone that occur. While our research focuses primarily on breast cancer metastasis to bone, we also study lung, prostate, and myeloma which are tumors that can reside in bone and induce bone disease. Once breast tumors establish in bone they can stimulate bone destructions, which leads to increased fracture rates and pain in patients. Importantly, there are no cures for tumors once they have established in bone. We study the mechanisms that regulate metasis to bone and induce bone destruction, which requires molecular biology, engineering, animal models, and small animal imaging. These techniques together have helped us better understand tumor-induced bone disease and have allowed us to begin testing promising therapeutics in small animal models of tumor-induced bone disease.

Specifically, we have determined that the developmental transcription factor Gli2 is upreguated when tumor cells metastasize to bone and that this leads to the production of the the osteolytic (bone destructive) factor parathyroid hormone related protein (PTHrP). While it is still unclear why Gli2 is expressed in some tumor cells, our work has demonstrated that the physical stiffness of bone stimulates Gli2 and PTHrP expression through a combination of transforming growth factor-beta and mechanotransduction signaling. Currently we are testing the applicability of inhibitors to these pathways to determine their efficacy in our pre-clinical models of cancer metastasis to bone.