As we prepare for Saturday’s AutoNation Cure Bowl, featuring our own UCF Knights, we know that the game’s proceeds benefit the College of Medicine’s Dr. Annette Khaled. She’s developing new technologies to stop metastatic breast cancer cells in their tracks.

The medical school has a team of “Cancer Assassins” – researchers in the Burnett School of Biomedical Science who are using their scientific expertise to find a cure:


Dr. Annette Khaled

Khaled chairs the College of Medicine’s Cancer Research Division. She is using nanoparticles to track down and kill metastatic breast cancer cells. These cells, which spread from the original tumor, cause cancer to recur and spread into the brain, blood and lungs – causing death to most patients. Khaled’s technology is expected to begin clinical trials in 2018.


Dr. Deborah A. Altomare

Altomare is finding new ways to fight pancreatic and ovarian cancer by studying how cancer tumors interact with surrounding cells. She is working to develop targeted drugs and immune cell therapy to block the growth and spread of cancer tumors.


Dr. Claudia Andl

Andl creates a cancer tumor’s environment in a test tube to better understand how tumor cells interact with their environment and spread. With that focus, she is looking to develop better treatments for oral and esophageal cancers.


Dr. Karl X. Chai

Chai’s research focuses on HER2+ breast cancer – an especially aggressive form that hits about 1 in 5 breast cancer patients. This type of cancer is hard to fight because the breast cancer cells have a particular protein that causes them to grow and spread quickly. Chai is looking at the novel mechanisms in these cells and what makes them resistant to Herceptin, the drug approved for treatment.


Dr. Ratna Chakrabarti

Chakrabarti is studying the cellular differences between aggressive and more inactive cancers to better identify patients who have a genetic predisposition to develop drug-resistant prostate cancer. By identifying the genetic and epigenetic components of prostate cancer, Chakrabarti hopes to develop better therapies for prostate cancer patients and improve their quality of life. Her lab is also conducting screenings of synthetic compounds that may prove to be novel anti-cancer agents.


Dr. Li-Mei Chen

Chen is identifying the novel mechanisms in lung cancer cells that make them resistant to chemotherapies. Lung cancer is the second-most-common cancer in men and women and is by far the leading cause of cancer deaths. About 1 in 4 cancer deaths are from lung cancer – more than colon, breast and prostate cancer combined.


Dr. Alicja Copik

Copik is developing ways to activate the body’s Natural Killer cells to kill cancer. NK cells are a veritable army that identify and attack invaders like cancer and viruses. She has developed a technology that uses nanoparticles to activate and grow NK cells to fight cancer. The therapy will begin clinical trials in 2017 and shows promise in treating leukemia and other cancers.


Dr. Jihe Zhao

Zhao’s question: Why does the heart rarely get cancer? He is looking to understand why cancer spreads to some organs like the brain and not others like the heart. Dr. Zhao is also discovering how to protect the heart from damage caused by anti-cancer therapies.

Learn more about the medical school’s cancer division at,