Dissecting the Dynamics of the Tumor Microenvironment: Nutrient Availability and Treatment Outcomes - Asmaa El-Kenawi

April 11, 2023

Asmaa El-Kenawi shares her research on the effects of nutrient availability in the tumor microenvironment as part of her Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) Young Investigator Award. Her work centers around understanding the dynamic interactions of cancer cells with immune cells, normal cells, and physical factors, like oxygen and pressure, and micronutrients within the cancerous environment. She aims to translate these understandings into personalized treatment decisions. Her project also has a focus on disparities, as it incorporates samples from African American patients to highlight potential differences between African American and European American prostate cancers. Dr. El-Kenawi plans to combine precision medicine and precision diet to care for the whole patient, considering comorbidities and survivorship in the future. 


Asmaa El-Kenawi, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, FL

Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH, Genitourinary Medical Oncologist, Medical Director of Survivorship Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts

Read the Full Video Transcript

Alicia Morgans: Hi, I'm so excited to be here with Dr. Asmaa El-Kenawi, who is joining us to talk about her PCF Young Investigator Award from 2021. Thank you so much for being here.

Asmaa El-Kenawi: Thank you, Alicia. Thank you for having me.

Alicia Morgans: Of course. So you've done some incredible work and are really moving the needle in multiple areas of prostate cancer, including disparities work, which I think is so, so important. But tell us, what was your project for this Young Investigator Award and where do things stand after about a year of working on it?

Asmaa El-Kenawi: So my project for the PCF award is related to my background as a pharmacist. So I study how treatment work and the idea of the PCF award is trying to understand how nutrient affect therapeutic response. So thinking about the mechanism behind a nutrient availability in the tumor micro environment. So as we all know that cancer is not just cancer cells, there is a lot of other component like immune cells, like normal cells, like the physical factor, how much pressure in there, how much oxygen in there, there is micronutrients in there. So all of these has dynamics that interact and my project is about to dissect how these dynamic occurring and how we can take that as a knowledge to guide therapeutic decision as a personalized medicine, also enriching in the African American component by having patient sample from African American and try to understand the differences between African American and European American as well.

Alicia Morgans: Wow. Well this is certainly no small task. This is a lot of exciting work. What milestones have you hit in your first year?

Asmaa El-Kenawi: So we finish the translational work related to how we optimize the model that we're using to test nutrient availability, like the simple component of nutrients in the cancer. So we actually finish that step by optimizing a patient-specific platform to test nutrient availability, to ask question later on about how therapy affect this nutrient availability and how we can take this knowledge to guide, for example, diet as we heard in the PCF yesterday, or how to guide therapeutic decisions.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful, and what can we expect in the next couple of years? It's a three year award and you have a lot to do, I'm sure.

Asmaa El-Kenawi: Yeah, so we have a lot coming. So we're having a multidisciplinary approach using patient sample, mouse model, cell line, new novel approaches, like micro 3D approaches. So this is going to actually take the whole three years and we are applying for more grants to expand, have multi-individual team to take on this question because it's a lot to work on.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. Well, what would your, I guess, guidance be as you and your team are trying to take these next steps, where will this individual work or this initial body of work launch you?

Asmaa El-Kenawi: So I would like to see, as a pharmacist, that it's not about just therapy, but there is a component of precision diet and precision medicine so both of them interact together. So to take the patient as a whole, including comorbidity, take the survivorship and therapeutic response into account, not just like number how much the survivor now. It's just the patient as a whole and taking care of the patient through its treatment, diet, and taking that from mechanistic perspective as a pharmacologist from the beginning as a pharmacist dealing with mechanisms. So that would be my goal.

Alicia Morgans: Well, I think there is nothing more exciting to me than really digging into the biologic basis of living well as a cancer survivor.

Asmaa El-Kenawi: Exactly. That's actually summarize my goal. You said it well.

Alicia Morgans: Wonderful. Well, this is work that I am sure will continue to be fruitful and I really commend you for your award and I encourage you to keep this work up because it is certainly something that's near and dear to my heart and to many, many patients and loved ones. So keep it up and thank you.

Asmaa El-Kenawi: Thank you so much, Alicia.