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Aki Morikawa, MD, PhD

Clinical Lecturer
Internal Medicine Division of Hematology/Oncology
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan
Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO

Current Research

  • 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 metastasis occurs when breast cancer cells spread to the brain. It is considered one of the most devastating complications of metastatic breast cancer. There is an urgent need to better understand why some breast cancer patients develop brain metastasis and what makes these cancer cells able to spread and grow in the brain. Dr. Morikawa is conducting studies to compare the molecular profiles in breast cancer brain metastases compared to the original tumor to identify factors that cause breast cancers to spread to the brain.

Full Research Summary

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.
 
Dr. Morikawa is examining the molecular changes in breast cancer cells and their association with the development of brain metastases. 
 
During the first year of her Conquer Cancer Foundation study supported by BCRF, she obtained tumor tissue from breast cancer brain metastases and conducted analyses on the molecular characterization of these tumors. Initial studies showed that there are unique molecular changes in brain metastasis compared to the paired breast tumor. In general, the brain metastasis had more mutations than the original breast cancer. 
 
In the coming year, she will continue to collect and analyze tumor tissue from brain metastases in hopes of elucidating key factors associated with breast cancer brain metastasis and lay the groundwork for the development of preventive and therapeutic interventions.
 
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.

Biography

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.  

BCRF Investigator Since

2016

Area(s) of Focus