Winter 2019
While pursuing her Ph.D., Suzann Duan pursues answers to breast cancer metastasis

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Suzann Duan in lab

Photo: Brin Reynolds

A Ph.D. candidate in cellular and molecular pharmacology and physiology, Suzann Duan spends her time in the Buxton Lab. She wants to learn how breast cancer cells are able to reach distant sites in the body, remain idle and reactivate years later to develop into metastases, often leading to death. By discovering how and when cancer cells metastasize, Duan hopes to facilitate the development of therapeutics for early intervention. Her research builds on a Buxton Lab discovery of a drug cocktail that prevents metastasis of human breast tumors when implanted in mice.

"Metastasis is responsible for the vast majority of cancer-related deaths, yet we still lack a complete understanding of how it unfolds at the molecular level," said Duan.

"Our work sheds light on a form of cellular communication that is now heavily implicated in the metastatic process. The knowledge that we seek to gain from our studies inform not only the basic mechanistic underpinnings of breast cancer, but also shape ideas on diagnosis and therapeutic intervention."

Duan's work has been generously supported by the Mick Hitchcock Graduate Fellowship, the National Cancer Institute and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Dissertation Fellowship. Last summer, she was among just 18 students selected internationally to attend a cancer metastasis workshop in Switzerland.

Following graduation in May, she plans to remain in cancer research. She is also passionate about teaching and mentoring youth to facilitate engagement in STEM and professional development of women in science.

"My Ph.D. has grown into an opportunity to add to our current knowledge of cancer biology," said Duan. "I feel extremely fortunate for all of the support I've received to get to this stage in my education, and I hope to apply my training and personal experiences toward creating those same opportunities for others."