Dr. Rebecca Morris leading new projects targeting skin, breast cancers

Dr. Rebecca Morris - The Hormel Institute

One of The Hormel Institute’s lead investigators has a new grant to support her innovative studies focused on determining the role of bone marrow-derived cells in the development of skin and breast cancers.

Dr. Rebecca Morris, leader of the “Stem Cells and Cancer” research section at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, has a one-year, $100,000 Pilot Award grant that started this month to support a project focused on bone marrow-derived cells as potential new targets for preventing skin cancer.

Morris received the grant from the Minnesota Chemoprevention Consortium (MC^2), which consists of The Hormel Institute, Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Cancer Center and Hormel Foods Corporation. She is collaborating on the project with Dr. Zigang Dong, Executive Director of The Hormel Institute; and Dr. Alexander Meves, a physician scientist in dermatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

The MC^2 research relates to another project led by Dr. Morris that has been trying to determine whether bone marrow-derived cells play a role in breast cancer; that work has been funded by donations raised through Austin’s annual “Paint the Town Pink” initiative to support breast cancer research. Her team has made progress in developing the required technology for the project, and currently is collecting data and analyzing the results of its first, specific project.

Both projects will significantly assist Morris in gathering preliminary data to help her apply for major, federal grants related to the research. The two projects are related in that they involve investigating the role of bone marrow-derived cells in cancer that develops in epithelial cells, which cover surfaces or line spaces and serve in a variety of roles, including to enclose and protect parts of the body. Epithelial cells also are a common source of cancers called carcinomas.

Findings from the two studies also potentially could help in research related to other types of cancer and inflammatory diseases, Morris said.

Greatly assisting with her work, Morris led a successful grant application for funding this month from the University of Minnesota to help acquire a stereo microscope to be shared by all faculty members at The Hormel Institute. The piece of technology will significantly help Morris and her team specifically with their PTTP-funded project on breast cancer.