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Epithelial sodium channel as a target in breast cancer

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Academic background
Sciences, Health Sciences
Host campus
Master’s, PhD
Professor Fiona McDonald


Breast cancer is a major health problem comprising 28% of cancers that affect New Zealand women. Our new data shows that epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) expression in patients' tumours correlates with breast cancer prognosis, and that changes in ENaC expression alter breast cancer cell proliferation and cell morphology. ENaC also seems to confer a more ‘epithelial’ phenotype on breast cancer cells, but the mechanism for this is unknown. ENaC is well-known for its role in regulation of Na+ homeostasis and blood pressure, but also contributes to cell shape and rigidity, thus influencing cell migration and differentiation. Changes in mechano-sensing pathways and cell shape are tightly linked to the ability of cancer cells to undergo epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), migrate and metastasise.

This project will involve you assessing ENaC’s role in breast cancer cell EMT, migration, and proliferation, and determining physical characteristics of breast cancer cells with changes in ENaC expression by atomic force microscopy. Characterisation of the mechanisms by which ENaC promotes tumour generation may provide a previously unknown target for breast cancer therapy.


Fiona McDonald