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Adrian Lee, PhD

University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Titles and Affiliations

Pittsburgh Foundation Chair and Director, Institute for Precision Medicine
Professor, Pharmacology & Chemical Biology, and Human Genetics
UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

Research area

Improving treatment for invasive lobular breast cancer by inhibiting tumor growth.


Invasive lobular cancer (ILC) accounts for 10-15% of all breast cancers. While an estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer, the unique biology of ILC distinguishes it from other ER-positive disease. As a discrete breast cancer subtype, ILC is the sixth most common cancer in women. The major feature of ILC is mutation and subsequent loss of E-cadherin, a cell adhesion protein molecule expressed in normal breast tissue.

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Lee and his team have studied unique features of ILC and how growth factors such as insulin like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF1R), may drive the growth of this subtype of disease. They have made significant progress in understanding the role of the IGF1R pathway in ILC using laboratory models. The team demonstrated that reduction of E-cadherin increases IGF1R activity and tumor growth and vice versa, and that E-cadherin loss increases sensitivity to other growth factors, not just IGF1R.

What’s next

The team is now investigating the role of HER2 in ILC and the role of E-cadherin loss in regulating HER2 activity. Importantly, HER2 is similar to IGF1R in its actions and is also elevated in ILC. Preliminary results indicate a loss of E-cadherin results in an increase in HER2 in their laboratory models. Results from their studies may lead to clinical trials of anti-HER2 therapies in ILC.


Dr. Lee is the Pittsburgh Foundation Chair and Director of the Institute for Precision Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC. He is Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology, and Professor of Human Genetics, at UPM Hillman Cancer Center and Magee Women’s Research Institute. Dr. Lee received his BSc and PhD in England and came to San Antonio for his postdoctoral studies. He was subsequently recruited to Baylor College of Medicine and now the University of Pittsburgh.

The goal of Dr. Lee’s laboratory is to translate basic cell and molecular research findings into the understanding and treatment of breast cancer. Dr. Lee serves on numerous other national peer-review committees and is on the Scientific Advisory Board for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

BCRF Investigator Since


Areas of Focus

Tumor Biology