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Barbara A. Parker, MD
Professor Emeritus of Clinical Medicine
Rebecca and John Moores Cancer Center
University of California
San Diego, California
Goal: To identify new therapies for the treatment of drug-resistant and metastatic breast cancer.
Impact: Drs. Parker and Kipps have identified a protein, ROR1, that is expressed by many cancer types and is associated with aggressive breast cancer and the development of metastases. The team has successfully developed a drug to target ROR1 that they have shown to slow metastatic spread. Understanding the role of ROR1 in drug resistance and breast cancer recurrence could inform new treatment strategies for aggressive disease.
What’s next: The team will continue to use breast cancer models in the lab to identify markers of treatment response or resistance to targeted therapies. Their work has the potential to open new avenues to treat metastatic breast cancer.
While metastatic breast cancer is often initially responsive to hormone therapy and chemotherapy, resistance to these therapies develops in most cases. Cancer stem cells are thought to be responsible for drug resistance and breast cancer recurrence. Drs. Parker and Kipps have identified a protein, ROR1, that is expressed by cancer cells with stem cell-like features that make them targets for anti-cancer therapy. The team is working to find markers of drug response or resistance and develop more effective treatments for advanced metastatic breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Developing more effective treatments and treatment strategies for metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
Impact: Because there is no cure for MBC, the goal of treatment is to slow the disease’s growth for as long as possible. This can be achieved with hormone therapy and chemotherapy, but most MBCs will eventually develop resistance to these therapies. Drs. Parker and Kipps are investigating a key protein, ROR1, whose expression correlates with aggressive breast cancer and the development of metastases. The team has developed a monoclonal antibody that targets ROR1. They are now working to identify biomarkers of therapy response and resistance, which could inform the development of better treatments for MBC that would prolong life and improve the quality of life for patients.
Current investigation: The team has been studying ROR1, a protein that is normally expressed in the embryo, but is also found in breast and many other cancers. Breast cancer cells in which ROR1 is present have characteristics of cancer stem cells, which are cells that can regenerate the tumor and may be responsible for metastasis and recurrence, even after apparently successful therapy.
What they’ve learned so far: Their research indicates that ROR1 is expressed by cancer cells with stem cell-like features, and that ROR1 expression correlates with aggressive breast cancer and the development of metastases. Drs. Parker and Kipps have developed a monoclonal antibody called cirmtuzumab that targets ROR1 and is now being tested in clinical trials.
What’s next: The team will continue laboratory studies to develop markers for response or resistance to targeted therapies like cirmtuzumab. Ultimately, they aim to develop more effective treatments and treatment strategies for advanced metastatic breast cancer.
Dr. Barbara Parker is a Professor Emeritus of Clinical Medicine at University of San Diego Moores Cancer Center and former Deputy Director of Cancer Medicine for UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. She received her medical degree from Stanford University and her postgraduate training in Internal Medicine and Hematology Oncology from UC San Diego. Her practice is devoted to breast cancer and her funded research program involves studies of novel personalized therapies, translational models of breast cancer, molecular features of breast cancer in underserved populations, the impact of lifestyle on breast cancer outcomes, and personalized screening approaches. She serves as the principal investigator for ATHENA Breast Health Network at UCSD where she leads efforts in establishing personalized screening and risk assessment for women at the time of mammography. She is a co-investigator on the ISPY2 clinical trial in high risk early stage breast cancer and serves on the ISPY2 New Agent Selection Committee.