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Assistant Professor, Pharmacology
UNC-Chapel Hill
Molecular Therapeutics

Area of Interest

My passion as a scientist is to perform research that contributes to a better understanding of pancreatic cancer biology and leads to improved treatments for this disease. My work focuses on the relatively unexplored mechanisms by which the KRAS oncogene drives the altered metabolic processes that fuel pancreatic cancer growth.

As a postdoc in the laboratory of Dr. Channing Der at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I addressed the role of KRAS, the oncogenic driver of pancreatic cancer, in the increased autophagic activity required for PDAC growth. We found that the genetic suppression of KRAS increased autophagic flux, as did pharmacological inhibition of its effector, ERK MAPK.

This finding led us to conclude that concurrent inhibition of ERK and autophagy may be an effective PDAC treatment. This study has invigorated interest in targeting autophagy for PDAC treatment and led to the initiation of clinical trials at MD Anderson Cancer Center (NCT04132505), UNC-Chapel Hill and Harvard/DFCI (NCT04386057). The second trial and correlative studies based on its results are the basis for Aim 1 of UNC’s Selective Targeting of Pancreatic Cancer SPORE (P50CA257911; PI: Yeh).

Currently, my laboratory is focused on improving our understanding of how best to target autophagy in RAS-driven cancers. These studies include determining whether dual targeting of the ERK MAPK pathway and autophagy is a therapy that translates to RAS-driven cancers other than PDAC and discovering new ways to induce and inhibit autophagy.

We have also recently expanded our studies to include metabolic processes other than autophagy. For example, a current project in the laboratory is aimed at understanding the utilization of an alternative nutrient-scavenging pathway, macropinocytosis, following ERK MAPK inhibition.

Find publications on PubMed

Awards and Honors

  • Scholar Award, William Guy Forbeck Research Foundation, 2020
  • Joseph S. Pagano Award, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, UNC-Chapel Hill, 2019

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Headshot of Kirsten Bryant.