In September 2016, Elena Pugacheva, Ph.D., WVCTSI pilot recipient and assistant professor of biochemistry with the West Virginia University School of Medicine, successfully secured the renewal of R01 funding for her project, “The Role of NEDD9 Protein in Proliferation and Invasion of Metastatic Breast Cancer.”
Pugacheva’s project aims to change the clinical strategy for treating metastasis through the identification of patients who will benefit most from the application of selective anti-AURKA/NEDD9 based therapies for triple negative and HER2+ amplified breast cancers.
“My lab is focused on finding a cure for stage 4 cancer patients whose only options are hospice or very aggressive chemotherapy,” said Pugacheva. “Stage 4 survival rates are stagnant with no real improvements over the last decade, so finding treatments for these patients is a real priority for me.”
Pugacheva’s over 15 years of experience and passion for cancer research can all be traced back to her childhood and an early encounter with the disease.
“My whole interest in cancer originated very early,” said Pugacheva. “I had a close relative dying from colon cancer who I would visit in the hospital. For me it was the most horrific disease I had ever observed, so I started to look into the origins of cancer.”
This early interest in research would eventually evolve into a lifelong passion of Pugacheva’s.
“I like that through my research I can actually do something that might be helping people.”
This passion also extends to mentorship of students who she interacts with on a daily basis in her lab.
“I love interacting with my students because science is all about developing ideas, and brainstorming problems together. This is one of the most rewarding experiences for me,” said Pugacheva.
As a mentor, Pugacheva prioritizes bringing her students out of the lab in order to make sure they have an opportunity to interact with the people they hope to help, stimulating a renewed sense of purpose and motivation for the work they are conducting
“I think it’s important for my students to know that whatever they’re doing in the lab, all these very technical things, which might be very far away from the clinic, actually matter,” said Pugacheva. “There is a person here that really depends on the regiments we’re working on, so we need to push through any hardships because what we’re doing matters.”