SALT LAKE CITY — Researchers at Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute will get more than $1 million over the next three years from a U.S. Department of Defense grant to investigate breast cancer metastasis.

"Metastasis, or when cancer spreads from its original site, is the primary cause of death from breast cancer, yet the key drivers of metastasis within cells are not completely understood," said Don Ayer, the study's principal investigator and professor of oncology at the University of Utah.

The study will focus on triple negative breast cancers because they have poor outcomes and no targeted therapies available. Triple negative breast cancers, which don't respond to hormone therapies, make up about 10 to 20 percent of all diagnosed breast cancers.

Previous work by Ayer has identified a series of genes that provides a protective response to agents that lead to cancer. When those genes are not active, his studies have shown an increased spread of cancer to other parts of the body.

Ayer said he thinks continued studies will lead to new treatment that may restrict spread of the cancer.

— Wendy Leonard