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Anna Vilgelm, MD, PhD
Research Assistant Professor, Pharmacology and Cell Biology
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
- Seeking to identify new strategies to improve response to anti-cancer therapies.
- Laboratory studies are conducted to test a combination approach to improve the effectiveness of CDK4/6 inhibitors.
- This research has the potential to generate novel effective therapies for advanced estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
CDK4/6 inhibitors, such as Ibrance®, Kisqali® or Verzenio®, have dramatically extended the lives of patients with some forms of metastatic breast cancer. Unfortunately, patients eventually become resistant to these therapies. Cancer immunotherapies stimulate the immune system to launch an anti-tumor attack. While these therapies have been successful in some cancers, few breast cancer patients have benefitted. Drs. Vilgelm and Arteaga are conducting studies to determine whether adding an immunotherapy drug to CDK4/6 inhibitor will improve outcomes in patients with estrogen receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Advanced metastatic breast cancer is an incurable disease. Current therapies that block cancer growth, such as a class of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors, have been shown to prolong survival of patients with this disease. Unfortunately, breast tumors are rarely completely eliminated by this therapy and start growing again within months.
The ultimate goal of Dr. Vilgelm’s BCRF-supported study is to develop a strategy to achieve a sustained response to CDK4/6 inhibitors that will prevent tumors from coming back.
Dr. Vilgelm and BCRF colleague Dr. Carlos Arteaga discovered that when breast cancer cells are treated with a CDK4/6 inhibitor, they release small proteins, called chemokines that attract cancer killing immune cells, called T-cells.
The research team will conduct studies in sophisticated laboratory models to characterize the effect of CDK4/6 inhibitors on the tumor-immune microenvironment to see if this treatment will improve response to immunotherapy drugs. The researchers predict that the effects of this treatment will continue for a long period of time because the immune system will keep fighting the cancer after therapy is completed.
While immunotherapy has been successful in some cancers, including some breast cancers, most breast cancers do not respond to this therapy. This study may lead to clinical trial for combination approaches that make immunotherapy more effective for more patients.
Dr. Anna Vilgelm is a research assistant professor in pharmacology and cancer biology at Vanderbilt University. She received her MD from the Russian State Medical University in Moscow, Russia and her PhD is from the Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow, Russia,. She conducte her thesis work at Vanderbilt. The main focus of her research program is on design and preclinical evaluation of novel therapeutic strategies for treatment of metastatic cancers, including breast cancer and melanoma. The approach is to use clinically relevant tumor models to design rational combinations of novel and emerging cancer therapies, including tumor-targeting and immune-stimulating therapies, to ultimately improve treatment outcomes for cancer patients.