Emily B. Harrison, PhD
Emily B. Harrison, PhD

The Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina (LCI) has awarded Emily B. Harrison, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the 2019 Career Development Grant to further her career in lung cancer research. The $150,000 grant will help fund Harrison’s research in inhibiting the mechanisms of lung cancer metastasis over the course of the next two years.

Advances in treatments like tyrosine kinase inhibitors and immunotherapy have improved the survival rates of patients diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), however, overall survival rates remain low, particularly in metastatic disease. Metastasis is the leading cause in cancer-related deaths, even more than the growth of primary tumors. Harrison’s research aims to identify the cellular and molecular pathways driving metastasis.

“Defining the pathways that drive metastasis will provide new therapeutic targets and biomarkers,” said Harrison. “If we can prevent cancer’s spread, we can save lives. I am honored to work with LCI as I build my career in lung cancer research.”

Harrison’s research has found that metastatic lung cancer cells increase expression of axon guidance cues, which can regulate cell movement. Harrison hypothesizes that these cues increase tumor cell migration, creating a pro-metastatic environment within the tumor. Her objectives are to use genetic and pharmacological approaches to uncover how axon guidance pathways promote the metastatic spread of lung cancer and to test the expression of these cues in NSCLC patient samples to determine their association with clinical features and survival. Her research aims to evaluate therapeutic strategies to block these pathways and inhibit metastasis in mouse models of NSCLC.

“We are excited to award our first Career Development Grant to Dr. Harrison,” said Amy Cipau, LCI President.  “As Dr. Harrison is one of LCI’s former research fellows, it is particularly rewarding to support her expanding leadership and influence in the field of lung cancer.”

Harrison received her bachelor of science degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and her doctorate in neuroscience at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She joined UNC in 2016 as a trainee in the Carolina Cancer Nanotechnology Training program and was supported by an NIH T32 grant. She currently focuses on uncovering novel miRNA regulators of cancer metastasis and exploring therapeutic strategies for microRNA delivery and inhibition under the mentorship of Chad Pecot, MD, associate professor of medicine, and Leaf Huang, PhD, the Fred Eshelman Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Both are UNC Lineberger members.

Annually, lung cancer claims more lives in North Carolina and the US than any other cancer and more than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. Since 2008, LCI has funded more than $1.7 million in lung cancer research through programs including the research fellowship grant, health disparities in lung cancer grant in partnership with the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the career development award, and the innovation grant.