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Barbara A. Parker, MD
Professor of Clinical Medicine
Medical Director, Oncology Services
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 associated with aggressive breast cancer and the development of metastases and have generated models that will allow them to study it further. Their findings could inform a new treatment strategy for aggressive breast cancer.
What’s next: The doctors will continue their ongoing studies which includes generating sophisticated patient-derived laboratory models to study the role of ROR1 in breast cancer progression.
While metastatic breast cancer is 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 that is expressed by cancer cells with stem cell-like features that make them targets for anti-cancer therapy. The team is now testing strategies to inhibit ROR1, which may enhance the survival of patients with breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Developing more effective treatments and treatment strategies for advanced 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 mechanisms of 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 interferes with metastasis and cancer growth in laboratory models.
What’s next: Based on their promising finding, the team will launch a clinical trial to evaluate cirmtuzumab in combination with paclitaxel in patients with advanced breast cancer. Their BCRF study will continue to focus on how ROR1 promotes tumor growth and aggressiveness.
Dr. Barbara Parker is involved in the studies of novel personalized therapies for the treatment of breast cancer, the impact of diet and lifestyle on breast cancer outcomes, and the quality of life of breast cancer survivors. She is the principal investigator for the Cancer and Leukemia Group B/Alliance clinical trials at UCSD. Dr. Parker is the Medical Director for the Women's Healthy Eating and Living Study of over 3,000 breast cancer survivors. She is also 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.