Seeking to improve outcomes for patients with breast cancers that have spread to the brain.
Laboratory studies are conducted to assess patient and tumor characteristics that may provide insight into new strategies to prevent or treat brain metastases.
These studies are addressing a serious clinical challenge and may lay the groundwork for the development of preventive and therapeutic interventions.
Brain metastases are associated with significant morbidity and mortality in breast cancer patients. Drug therapies are not as effective in the brain, partially due to the blood-brain barrier limiting the drug exposure in the brain.
New targeted or biomarker-driven therapies have contributed to an increase in survival in metastatic breast cancer patients, but such improvements are not seen in patients with brain metastases. Moreover, with a greater control of systemic disease and an increased use of MRI imaging, we can expect to see an increase in the incidence of brain metastases.
A deeper understanding of why breast cancer cells are able to spread and grow successfully in the brain is urgently needed to develop strategies to successfully prevent and treat this devastating disease.
Dr. Morikawa is examining the molecular changes in breast cancer cells and their association with the development of brain metastases. In the first part of her Conquer Cancer Foundation study supported by BCRF, she will compare patient and tumor characteristics, including the molecular profiles of breast cancer patients who developed brain metastases after undergoing curative surgery to those patientts who did not develop metastases.
In the second part, she will examine molecular profiles of primary breast cancer cells from initial surgery and compare them to molecular profiles of breast cancer cells (from the same patient) which later metastasized to the brain. Such comparisons will give a better idea if unique changes are specifically associated with an ability to spread to the brain. Dr. Morikawa’s study findings may elucidate key factors associated with breast cancer brain metastasis and lay the groundwork for the development of preventive and therapeutic interventions.
Aki Morikawa, MD, PhD is a Clinical Lecturer in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan. She is a breast medical oncologist with clinical and translational research interest in central nervous system metastases. Her research aims to improve the understanding of epidemiology and pathogenesis of breast cancer metastasis to the central nervous system and to identify new therapeutic targets and develop novel therapies. She is actively involved in multidisciplinary collaborative research, which ranges from preclinical modeling of brain niche and patient-derived xenografts to therapeutic clinical trials.
Dr. Morikawa holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in piano performance and obtained her MPH in epidemiology and biostatics at Boston University School of Public Health. She subsequently earned her MD/PHD and completed her internal medicine residency training at Emory University. She received her medical oncology fellowship training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. During her fellowship, she conducted research focusing on brain and leptomeningeal metastases from breast cancer. She has presented her research at several national and international meetings. She is also a recipient of the 2013 ASCO Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Research Fellowship under the mentorship of Dr. Larry Norton and Dr. Andrew D. Seidman.