Titles and Affiliations

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

Research area

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


Dr. Lee is investigating the role of the growth factors in the progression of invasive lobular breast cancer (ILC). HER2 and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1R) are known to play a role in the formation and growth of breast cancer and may be particularly important for the growth of ILC. Dr. Lee has shown that loss of a gene called CDH1 and the protein it encodes, E-cadherin, which occurs in nearly all ILC, increases the activity of growth factor receptors. He aims to test whether inhibiting growth factor pathways, like IGF1R and HER2, may represent a new therapeutic approach for ILC. 

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Lee and his team have studied unique features of invasive lobular cancer (ILC) and how growth factors such as IGFR1 may drive the growth of this subtype of disease. They have made significant progress in understanding a role for the IGF1R pathway in ILC using laboratory models. The team demonstrated that reduction of E-cadherin increases IGFR1 activity and tumor growth and vice versa, and that E-cadherin loss increases sensitivity to other growth, not just IGFR1. 

What’s next

Dr. Lee will now direct his research toward the increase in HER2 signaling that is seen in ILC. He aims to understand why activating HER2 mutations are enriched 10-fold in ILC compared to invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and how E-cadherin regulates HER2 activity. The interaction between E-cadherin and HER2 could influence how ILC responds to treatment and ultimately dictate which treatments are most effective against HER2-mutated 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 Council for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

BCRF Investigator Since


Areas of Focus