LSU Health New Orleans Newsroom

LSU Health New Orleans & LSU Collaborate on Breast Cancer Disparity Research

breast tumor microenvironment

A research team led by Frank Lau, M.D., F.A.C.S., Associate Professor of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, and Elizabeth Martin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at Louisiana State University Baton Rouge, has been competitively awarded a $100,000 internal grant to study how obesity may drive chemotherapy resistance in breast cancer patients with obesity. LSU Health New Orleans and LSU have joined forces to address health disparities, and this collaboration is their first joint research project.

“The long-term goal of this project is to understand the complex and dynamic process of remodeling the breast cancer tumor microenvironment in obese tissues,” notes Dr. Lau. “This is a particularly pressing issue in Louisiana, which has the second-highest female breast cancer death rate in the U.S. and was ranked as having one of the highest obesity rates in 2018. Patients with obesity face more than twice the risk of death from breast cancer.”

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Increased breast cancer drug resistance has been observed in patients with obesity. The environment around the tumor, known as the tumor microenvironment, includes normal cells, immune cells and blood vessels that feed cancer cells. It influences the growth and progression of cancer cells and contributes to drug resistance and metastasis. What has not been studied is how different biochemical and mechanical cues in patients with obesity uniquely contribute to drug resistance and metastasis. Evaluation of obese tissue demonstrates that there are elevated pro-inflammatory signals and increased collagen deposits compared to lean tissue. A limiting factor has been the lack of a physiologically relevant tumor model that precisely mimics the obese tissue environment.
Dr. Frank Lau
“We have developed the first 3D human breast tissue system for studying how breast cancer cells interact with human breast tissue,” Lau adds. “We hope our results will serve as the foundation for creating multiple tumor models that can mimic diverse patient populations who are underserved in breast cancer research.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans (LSU Health New Orleans) educates Louisiana's health care professionals. The state's health sciences university leader, LSU Health New Orleans includes a School of Medicine, the state's only School of Dentistry, Louisiana's only public School of Public Health, and Schools of Allied Health Professions, Nursing, and Graduate Studies. LSU Health New Orleans faculty take care of patients in public and private hospitals and clinics throughout the region. In the vanguard of biosciences research, the LSU Health New Orleans research enterprise generates jobs and enormous annual economic impact. LSU Health New Orleans faculty have made lifesaving discoveries and continue to work to prevent, advance treatment, or cure disease. To learn more, visit,, or