Donita Brady is ready for the next steps in cancer biology research

Donita Brady, a Presidential Professor of cancer biology and member of the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at the Perelman School of Medicine, planned to pursue a career in sports medicine. But a transformative mentor altered her path, and now, at Penn Medicine, she is leading a team that is working to understand how cancer grows uncontrolled in cells and discovering novel ways to stop it.

Presidential Professor of cancer biology Donita Brady. (Image: Penn Medicine News)
“My twin brother, Jonathan, and I were always active in our local sports communities playing softball, basketball, and football,” says Brady. “For that reason, I was always interested in pursuing a career in sports medicine to maintain that connection.

“Like many who end up pursuing a path in scientific research, I had a transformative educator. My AP Chemistry teacher sparked my interest in science and supported my goal of majoring in chemistry in college.”

Brady also devotes time to supporting and increasing racial diversity and equity in science, and in cancer research especially. “Intentional initiatives at our institutions and funding agencies aimed at the retention and recruitment of Black trainees and professors doing cancer research are critical to creating preeminent academic research environments,” she says.

“Our research focuses on the lines of communications, called signaling pathways, within our cells that control their ability to grow by helping them respond to nutrients and environmental changes,” she says. “In cancer and other diseases, many of these signaling pathways are always on and as a consequence the cells grow uncontrollably. Excitingly, our research has uncovered that the micronutrient copper, which many of us think about in terms of pipes in our homes or the coating of a penny, is essential for steps in these pathways that are overactive in human cancers.”

Brady’s looking ahead to a new arm of cancer research. “We are starting to scratch the surface of a paradigm shift in which metals directly regulate protein function in ways that weren’t known before. Therefore, it’s an exciting time to start to build the next set of tools and systems that are going to be necessary to fully understand the framework of metal regulation of protein function and how to employ that knowledge in different disease settings.”

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