Fellow Focus: Apostolos Klinakis

April 2, 2011
Fundamental Patience

Continuing the research path he began as a post-doc in Argiris Efstratiadis’s lab at Columbia University, former JCCF Fellow Apostolos Klinakis says modeling breast cancer in mice takes real patience. “If you have an idea and need to make a new mouse model, this might take three years. So after three years, if you’ve made a mistake, you have to start over on that idea.”

Currently, the research underlying Klinakis’s work is about IGF1R, a gene fundamental to growth and development: “We tried to use the mouse as a clinical model and test inhibitors to the IGF1R. And in fact, Columbia University created a patent from that and we were trying to license that to a company that would try to collect the money that is required for clinical trials. But that was right at the time that the financial crises started in the U.S..”

Now an investigator with his own lab at the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens, Klinakis’s patience is starting to pay off. As part of a consortium recently awarded a €2.5 million grant, Klinakis will use new mouse models to screen for
drugs that target the proteins expressed by the mutant PI3K gene, a mutation implicated in a large percentage of all cancers because the mutated protein keeps cells from self-destructing. “It’s one of the hallmarks of cancer,” says Klinakis, “you cannot get cancer unless you prevent bad cells from committing suicide.” Referring to the relationship between this work and his past work at Columbia University, Klinakis says, “So, you can imagine it as a cascade: the PI3K is downstream of the IGF1R.”

Still, Klinakis says, he will have to be patient: “Our work is with genetically engineered mice. They are forced to get tumors. It’s not like in people.” So success in a mouse model does not mean success with breast cancer. Klinakis says, “It takes more than just basic research like mine.”