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Ben Ho Park, MD, PhD
Professor of Medicine
Associate Director for Translational Research
Co-Leader Breast Cancer Program
Director for Precision Oncology
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Goal: To understand the genetic events and cell-to-cell interactions that lead to cancer.
Impact: Dr. Park’s research has shown that distinct cancer cell populations can interact simply by touching one another and that this contact helps them grow and resist anti-cancer therapies. This understanding will allow his team to identify new therapeutic strategies and lead to better outcomes for breast cancer patients.
What’s next: He and his team will determine the ways in which these cellular interactions affect cancerous growth and drug resistance.
Cancers are made up of different cells that have their own distinct genetic profiles, and they interact with each other to promote growth and resistance. Dr. Park aims to understand the nature of these interactions in order to identify ways they can be targeted to benefit patients with breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Understanding the intercellular interactions of breast cancer cells that affect cancerous growth and drug resistance.
Impact: Cancers occur as a result of changes to DNA that alter cell behaviors, such as uncontrolled growth. New studies have shown that the alterations within tumors are selected to increase the tumor cell’s ability to grow and thrive. Dr. Park has created breast cancer cell models and shown that cancer cells interact with neighboring cells to affect cancerous growth and drug resistance. Furthermore, his team has discovered that these interactions require physical cell to cell contact and is mediated by a protein called fibronectin – which may represent a therapeutic target for drug development. His studies will continue to shed new light on the underpinnings of cancer development and provide additional new targets for drug development.
Current investigation: Dr. Park and his colleagues are investigating the mechanism by which cancer cells interact to affect cancer growth and drug resistance.
What he’s learned so far: Dr. Park and his team have shown that cancer cells with single mutations interact with neighboring cells with other discrete mutations to increase cancerous growth and drug resistance. They have shown that certain proteins expressed by cancer cells mediate this process, including the protein fibronectin.
What’s next: Dr. Park’s team will continue their ongoing work using the laboratory models they have developed to gain a deeper understanding of how to target these tumors by influencing cell-to-cell interaction. Specifically, his team will identify new ways to target fibronectin and disrupt cancer cell-to-cell interaction for therapeutic benefit to breast cancer patients. Their research will set the stage for the next generation of breast cancer therapies.
Ben Ho Park, MD, PhD, an internationally renowned breast cancer expert, was recently appointed as the co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Program, Associate Director for Translational Research and Director of Precision Oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Dr. Park is from Saginaw, MI and received his bachelor’s degree from The University of Chicago and then completed a dual MD-PhD training program at The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. After completing a residency in Internal Medicine and Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Training at The Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania, he finished a postdoctoral research fellowship in cancer genetics in the laboratory of Dr. Bert Vogelstein at Johns Hopkins University, and then joined the faculty in 2002 in the Breast Cancer Program. At Hopkins he was Professor of Oncology, Associate Director for Education and Research Training, as well as Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs prior to joining the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.