BUFI seed grant for Pilot Collaboration Project: Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISc) & Boston University School of Medicine(BUSM), Boston, MA, USA

In 2016, Boston University Foundation - India (BUFI) provided an INR 13 lakh seed fund to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore to pilot a research project in the area of breast cancer among lean women in India. IISc, founded in 1909, and is a premier institute for advanced scientific and technological research and education in India.


  • Project Title: Breast Cancer Risk among Lean Women with Type 2 Diabetes in India
  • Grant awarded to: Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • Award amount: INR 13,00,000 (USD 19,500 )
  • Award period: March 2016 – August 2017
  • India participants: Dr. Anu Rangarajan, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  • BU participants: PI: Professor Gerald V Denis, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), Professor Katherine Strissel, BUSM
  • Use of funds: Travel to BU Labs to train with BU faculty; equipment purchase
  • Deliverables: Project report and budget. Click here


Breast cancer in lean Type 2 diabetes patients is a highly prevalent condition in India. Research suggests that whole body metabolism likely impacts susceptibility to and progression of breast cancer among lean Type 2 diabetics. However, little is known about the mechanisms that link metabolic disease to increased risk for breast cancer in the general population. The role of Type 2 diabetes in breast cancer risk in lean women is even less studied. Inflammation is believed to link metabolic dysregulation to associated breast cancer risk.

Dr. Anu Rangarajan of IISc Bangalore has been conducting research on deciphering the molecular and cytokine signatures of breast cancer risk in obesity. Her team has addressed cancer risks associated with ‘metabolically obese but lean’ (MOL) status in women who develop Type 2 diabetes at non-obese body weights; a highly prevalent, inflammatory condition in India. Measurement of cytokines/chemokines in plasma from lean healthy and lean Type 2 diabetes women will provide information about which inflammatory cytokines are associated with metabolic disease in lean subjects. These signature cytokines will then serve as a basis for testing in vitro epithelial to mesenchymal transition and drug resistance of breast cancer cells.We will build conceptual and mathematical bridges between population analyses, blood inflammation profiles and properties of breast cancer cells in vitro. Project goals are:

  1. To profile the plasma of lean Indian women with and without Type 2 diabetes
  2. To test breast cancer stemness in the microenvironmentmodels of Type 2 diabetes


Although the PI is experienced in cancer biology, the study of association of diabetes and inflammation in cancer risk and cancer progression is a new topic. The kind of work proposed, to investigate metabolism and breast cancer cell properties of lean diabetic women, a prevalent condition in India, is best accomplished as a collaboration between established laboratories abroad that are investigating similar problems in obese women, a prevalent condition in the Western population. Shared reagents and expertise will make progress possible on the aims. Dr. Rangarajan's team is beginning to initiate research on the association of diabetes with breast cancer in India, but lacked necessary funding. BUFI studied the proposal and decided to seed fund the project. The funds will be primarily used to purchase Assay and Laboratory Supplies, and cover domestic travel for data collection and abroad for academic discussions. Data obtained through this funding would also help to seek further funding from agencies in both India and abroad.

Current Status

The team has initiated dialogues with Endocrinologist for collecting blood samples from diabetic and non-diabetic patients. Preliminary cytokine analysis experiment is also undertaken in IISc patient plasma samples to learn to undertake assay and analyses.

It has also collected and isolated blood plasma samples of diabetic and non-diabetic patients, undertaken preliminary cytokine analysis on patient samples, and initiated breast cancer tissue collection (diabetic and nondiabetic) from KMIO hospital to undertake contamination free culture in the lab to undertake stemness assays.

The next step is to standardize undertaking cytokine analyses, processing primary breast cancer patient samples.