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Breast cancer claims more than 40,000 lives each year in the U.S., often because the cancer has spread to different parts of the body including the bones.

What if a drug commonly used to protect bones from osteoporosis could be altered to keep out breast cancer cells? That’s the goal one Moffitt researcher is pursuing through the creation of "Smart Molecules."

These molecules combine the calcium-seeking properties of the osteoporosis drug bisphosphonate with another agent that prevents an enzyme secreted by cancer cells from burrowing a foothold into the bone.

So far, the smart molecules are working in mouse models of breast cancer. Marilena Tauro, Ph.D., of Moffitt’s Tumor Biology Department hopes that eventually these smart molecules will be prescribed as soon as a patient receives a breast cancer diagnosis, so that painful bone metastasis will never have a chance to develop.

"This is a real possibility," says Dr. Tauro, "given the strong bench-to-bedside translational work being done here at Moffitt."