College of Science

Clemson researcher studies cancer in fellowship through School of Health


Hugo Sanabria is researching cancerous genetic mutations and personalized medicine to treat cancer as part of an embedded fellowship within the Prisma Health Cancer Institute.

Sanabria, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been named the newest Clemson University School of Health Research (CUSHR) Faculty Fellow. CUSHR Faculty Fellows serve as leaders in collaborative health research between Clemson and Prisma Health–Upstate. Faculty Fellows are strategically embedded in a Prisma Health–Upstate department, shifting their focus from their regular teaching duties to developing a comprehensive research agenda with their embedded Prisma Health department.

As part of the fellowship, Faculty Fellows produce research to improve the health of the community with their clinical partners. Their research will also contribute to the rapidly expanding joint Clemson University and Prisma Health collaborative research agenda through publications and presentations.

Sanabria’s research will focus on the structure, dynamics and function within a specific gene, ARID1A, which is linked to several cancer types due to common mutations. These mutations are thought to inhibit its tumor suppression function and found frequently in multiple systems, such as in reproductive, renal, gastric, and pulmonary. He’ll be looking at the impact of the particular gene’s mutation and why it happens.

“I’m excited for this unique opportunity to put my research in the clinical space and see the impact of our research from a clinician’s point of view and how it will help patient care,” Sanabria said. “The goal of our research is to map the mutating gene and figure out how it leads to cancer by looking at the underlying mechanisms for molecular function. Once we understand that, then we can correct for this using targeted medications.”

His fellowship is building upon research he started at Clemson in the Physics and Astronomy Department in January 2014. Recently, he’s been working with Jeffery Edenfield, MD, and Emil Alexov, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, on this cancer research, but this fellowship will allow him the time for a deeper dive and reveal the effects of genetic variants in the ARID1A gene.

“Sanabria’s fellowship will help bridge medical and academic partners and will allow us to better understand the linkage between genetic variants and clinical phenotypes,” Edenfield said. “In the long run, understanding the molecular mechanisms of cancer will facilitate the development of treatments that will target the individual’s genetic background more specifically and efficiently.”

Sanabria is no stranger to the health research landscape. He has received several prestigious awards and funding in health science. He earned one of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious honors when he was named a recipient of the Faculty Early Career Development Award. He received the Clemson University Board of Trustees award for excellence and also received the 2019 Horiba Young Fluorescence Investigator Award of the Biophysical Society.

Sanabria is an investigator with NIH COBRE SC-TRIMH. He is collaborating with associate professor Feng Ding to apply a combined multiscale experimental and modeling approach to uncover the structure, dynamics, and functional relationship of osteoclast-specific V-ATPases, which is essential for osteoclast-mediated bone resorption. The goal is to design therapeutic strategies to reduce the osteoclast-mediated bone resorption in osteoporosis. Sanabria’s research in biomolecules helps grow his collaborative research with SC-TRIMH and Prisma Health.

His embedded fellowship at Prisma Health will take place in the spring and summer of 2021.

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