Dr. Franco

Aime T. Franco, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Ph.D. Vanderbilt University
Office (501) 603-1359
Lab (501) 603-1360

Oncogenes, hormones and microbes and their link to cancer

In the Franco laboratory we are investigating the role of oncogenes, hormones and microbes in the development of cancer.  We use a variety of mouse models complemented with in vitro cell models to better understand initiation, progression and metastasis of cancer.  We are also interested in the impact of cancer on the entire body, including skeletal consequences of disease.

MAPK activation and thyroid cancer:  Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine cancer diagnosed.  It is one of the few cancers which incidences are increasing.  Many thyroid cancers are treatable with surgery and monitoring.  However, about 10% of cases are fatal within 6 months to 1 year after diagnosis.  One particular pathway, the MAPK pathway, is implicated in thyroid cancer development and progression.  Activation of this pathway via different proteins within the MAPK cascade lead to different cellular responses, clinical pathologies and responses to therapy.  Despite these observations, we do not understand how such closely related proteins can have such different and distinct consequences on thyroid cancer development, particularly why Ras mutations are most often associated with follicular thyroid cancer, whereas Braf mutations are most often associated with papillary thyroid cancers.  We are using cancer cell lines and new mouse models that closely recapitulate the disease in humans, to better understand the cellular processes involved in thyroid cancer development.  We hope that a better understanding of the specific molecular and cellular events that differentiate the development of follicular versus papillary thyroid cancer development will aid us in the design of improved therapeutic options for the treatment of thyroid cancer, better predict disease progression and develop prevention strategies.

Thyroid hormone axis in tumorigenesis:  Thyroid hormone is the master metabolic regulator of the human body and even subtle perturbations in hormone levels can have pronounced physiological consequences.  Clinicians have observed that thyroid cancer survivors have an increased incidence of breast cancers, whereas breast cancer survivors seem to have a higher incidence of secondary cancers of the thyroid.  This led us to hypothesize that thyroid dysfunction increases the risk of breast cancer development.  We are currently using mouse models and in vitro cell cultures models to investigate the role of thyroid hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone in breast cancer initiation, progression and metastasis.  We have also initiated and epidemiological study to investigate the correlation of thyroid status with breast cancer incidence and metastasis.

Microbes, inflammation and cancerHelicobacter pylori is the strongest identifiable risk factor for gastric cancer.  Almost 50% of the world’s population is infected with this bacterium, yet only a fraction develops gastric cancer.  We are investigating how bacterial structure and outer membrane proteins can impact disease risk.  We are collaborating with microscopists to elucidate the 3D structure/function of H. pylori membrane proteins by cryo-electron tomography.

We collaborate with the groups of Drs. Dana Gaddy, Larry Suva, and Roy Morello with whom we have joint lab meetings, and with other researchers on campus.

Link to Dr. Franco at PubMed


The Department of Physiology and Biophysics hosted 10 undergraduate students in the summer of 2018 doing research in faculty labs across the department. Many of our students participated in the Undergraduate Research Symposium, hosted by UAMS, highlighting the research conducted around the state of Arkansas. Dr. Franco presented the keynote address for the Symposium, describing her journey from cancer patient to cancer researcher. Get more details in Departmental News.

Dr. Franco spoke at the kick off for the Hot Springs Village Walk for Cancer Research. She will also be the guest speaker for the community’s “Doctor in the Village” series on May 17, 2018. Get more details from the Hot Springs Village Voice website.

Watch a video by the American Thyroid Association that features Dr. Franco, concerning ATA thyroid research work and impact.