Christina Curtis, PhD, MSc
Endowed Professor of Medicine & Genetics
Director, Breast Cancer Translational Research
Co-Director, Molecular Tumor Board
Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator
Understanding the drivers of breast cancer recurrence and metastasis in order to develop more effective treatments for patients with metastatic estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
Estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer is the most common type of breast cancer and can be treated with ER-directed therapies. Unfortunately, while most women with ER-positive breast cancer respond well, a substantial number experience recurrence at distant sites such as the lungs, brain, liver, or bones. This process, called metastasis, is the major cause of breast cancer mortality and can occur more than five years after the initial diagnosis. When metastasis occurs, current therapies can palliate symptoms and prolong survival, but metastatic breast cancer is not curable. Therefore, preventing and treating metastasis in ER-positive breast cancer remains a major unmet medical need. Dr. Curtis and her colleagues are investigating the underlying molecular drivers of recurrence and metastasis. Recently, they identified several subgroups of patients with ER-positive breast cancer who have a high-risk of relapse up to 20 years post diagnosis. These high-risk patients collectively account for one quarter of all ER-positive breast cancers and the majority of recurrences. Dr. Curtis’ team is seeking unique tumor targets within this group of patients that may be therapeutically actionable. Her results will help inform strategies for personalized breast cancer treatment and risk prediction with the goal of improving outcomes for women diagnosed with breast cancer witha high-risk of recurrence.
Dr. Curtis and her colleagues have developed and characterized laboratory model systems derived from patients with of high-risk ER-positive/HER2-negative breast cancers. These models provide unique tools that capture the heterogeneity of patient tumors and the underlying molecular drivers. In the last year, they assembled and profiled an additional 250 patient-derived samples to expand the database of information they are forming. Using a newly developed machine learning approach, Dr. Curtis’ team found that there is a prevalence of four distinct genetic patterns in patients with breast cancer metastasis compared to those with early stage disease breast cancer.
The team will continue to examine the association between the identified high-risk groups and treatment response. Specifically, by characterizing the genomic architecture of primary versus metastatic breast cancer, Dr. Curtis’ team will investigate if subgroup switching occurs as primary breast cancer metastasizes or in response to treatment. In tandem, they are deploying new spatial technologies to study what changes occur in the breast tumor-immune microenvironment. Their results will be used to develop novel ways to prevent recurrence in high-risk patient populations.
If not for BCRF, I would not be translating findings made at the bench and computer to the clinic to enable more precise therapeutic approaches for breast cancer patients.—Dr. Curtis
Christina Curtis, PhD MSc is an Endowed Professor of Medicine and Genetics at Stanford University where she leads the Cancer Computational and Systems Biology group and serves as the Director of Breast Cancer Translational Research and Co-Director of the Molecular Tumor Board at the Stanford Cancer Institute. She received her doctorate in Molecular and Computational Biology in 2007 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Computational Biology at the University of Cambridge in 2010.
Dr. Curtis’s research leverages data analytics, high-throughput molecular profiling, and experimentation to develop new ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. Her research has redefined the molecular map of breast cancer and led to predictive biomarkers. Additionally, she developed new paradigms in understanding how human tumors evolve and metastasize.
Dr. Curtis was the recipient of the National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award in 2018 and the American Association for Cancer Research Award for Outstanding Achievement in Basic Science in 2022. She is a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, a Susan G. Komen Scholar, and a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator. Dr. Curtis serves as a scientific advisor to multiple academic institutes and biotech and is a member of the AACR Board of Directors, as well as an editor for journals spanning computational biology to precision oncology.
The Ulta Beauty Award
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