Institute scientists to launch new research initiative at Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference

Deborah F. Kelly, Ph.D.

Deborah F. Kelly, Ph.D.

Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists will launch a new research initiative at the 14th Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference on June 5. The panel of researchers will be led by Deborah Kelly, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

The other speakers are Nicole Seymour, a research assistant at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, and Alexandra Mellis, a doctoral student in Virginia Tech’s Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program. Both Seymour and Mellis worked with Kelly to develop the new research program, called the BLAST Initiative – BRCA1 Long-term Actions on Susceptible Trans* populations.

Through the new initiative, scientists aim to understand how the addition of external hormones and their receptors influence the growth of breast cancer cells. Kelly and her team also want to learn how androgen receptors interact with molecules that regulate breast cancer. There’s little research on the effects of cross-sex hormones on spontaneous and hormone-sensitive cancers, yet early experimental results in Kelly’s laboratory indicate that breast cancers without targetable drug receptors may actually be responsive to androgens.

Kelly’s team continues to study the underlying mechanisms that influence the androgen uptake, delivery, and cellular response in the context of drug-resistant breast cancers.

Through the BLAST Initiative, the researchers will seek to connect the data with the trans* community to provide an opportunity to optimize safe, long-term health care plans. In collaboration with the laboratory of Warren Bickel, a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, the initiative also includes an in-depth survey to help scientists understand health behaviors, risk factors, decision-making, and experiences with discrimination, particularly in transgender and gender-nonconforming populations in the United States.

The researchers use trans*, with the asterisk, in an effort to inclusively encompass all gender identities, including binary, non-binary, and fluid individuals.