Barbara A. Parker, MD
San Diego, California
Professor Emeritus of Clinical Medicine,
Rebecca and John Moores Cancer Center
University of California
San Diego, California
Understanding the dynamics of cancer stem cells to generate new therapies for metastatic breast cancer.
Over 40,000 women in the United States die each year of metastatic breast cancer— when breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body—and new treatments are urgently needed. The development of effective therapies requires a comprehensive understanding of breast cancer biology, e.g., how tumors develop and change over time in response to therapies. Drs. Parker, Kipps, and their teams focus on the role of cancer stem cells (CSCs), which are cells that can regenerate tumors and may be responsible for metastasis, drug resistance, and recurrence. Ultimately, they want to develop personalized therapeutic strategies according to the stem-cell makeup of a patient’s tumor and are conducting studies to understand the dynamics of CSCs in breast cancer—how many tumors have them, in what proportion, and how CSC populations change with stressors like therapy.
To identify and target breast cancer stem cells, the teams identified a protein on the cell surface, called ROR1. This protein is present in embryos (which contain stem cells), but not in adult tissues, and it is generated by breast cancer cells with CSC features. Their research established that ROR1 correlates with aggressive breast cancer and the development of metastases. Drs. Parker and Kipps subsequently created a therapy that targets ROR1, an antibody called cirmtuzumab, that is now being tested in clinical trials. At the same time, the teams are developing laboratory models to mimic human breast cancers, to study CSCs and continue improving upon CSC-targeting therapies like ROR1.
In the coming year they will study what types of breast cancer cells express stem cells markers and how these cells differ between a patient tumor and a patient-derived laboratory tumor model. Additionally, they wish to understand the variation or heterogeneity of breast cancer cells in different tumors, different subtypes of breast cancer, and different patients. Their novel model systems will allow the teams to test new therapies more effectively for different subtypes of breast cancer.
Dr. Barbara Parker is a Professor Emeritus of Clinical Medicine at University of California, San Diego Moores Cancer Center and also a former Deputy Director of Cancer Medicine there. 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.
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