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Corey Speers, MD, PhD
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
American Society for Radiation Oncology
Goal: To improve treatments for patients with aggressive breast cancers.
Impact: Dr. Speers has been studying ways to improve response to radiotherapy – an important component of breast cancer treatment. Aggressive breast cancers, such as such as triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), are often resistance to radiation, increasing the risk of local recurrence or metastasis. His research will inform current and future radiation-based treatment regimens and address the urgent need for additional therapies to improve outcomes for patients with TNBC and other aggressive breast cancers.
What’s next: Locoregional recurrence–a breast cancer reappearing in the area of the breast or lymph nodes–is a common occurrence in women with TNBC and increases the risk of metastasis. Although radiation is an effective treatment to prevent local recurrence, aggressive breast cancers may resist the killing effects of radiation. Dr. Speers is working to develop innovative approaches to re-sensitize cancer cells to radiation therapy and improve treatment outcomes.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Improving response to radiation therapy in aggressive breast cancers.
Impact: Breast irradiation following surgery is a standard component of breast cancer therapy with the goal of preventing local recurrence. Aggressive breast cancers, such as triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) are more likely to resist the cell killing effects of radiation therapy, increasing the risk that the patient may experience a local recurrence or metastasis–breast cancer that spreads beyond the breast to distant tissues, an incurable form of the disease. Dr. Speers’ research is focused on improving response to radiation therapy by understanding how cancer cells become resistant to radiation and identifying new targets for therapeutic development and predictive biomarkers to identify patients at risk of not responding.
Current research: Dr. Speers’ American Society of Radiation Oncology project, supported by BCRF, is focused on the role of a class of proteins called checkpoint kinases, as potential players in radiotherapy resistance. Checkpoint kinases act as “gatekeepers” of the cell cycle –a critical process in cell survival following radiation therapy.
What he’s learned so far: He found that two of these kinases, TTK or MELK, are elevated in tumors from patients with TNBC. His laboratory studies have shown that MELK is essential to radiation resistance. Furthermore, blocking TTK activity enhanced the radiation effect in TNBC cells. These findings provide rationale for combination approaches targeting TTK or MELK to improve response to radiation therapy. Publications reporting these results are in preparation.
What’s next: In the coming year, his group will continue ongoing studies to confirm his preliminary findings. This research is particularly relevant to the treatment of TNBC and basal-like breast cancers.
Dr. Corey Speers is an assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan Hospital and Health Systems in Ann Arbor, MI. He received his MD and PhD from Baylor College of Medicine where his research efforts were focused on the identification of novel treatment targets for women with triple‐negative breast cancer. After successful completion of his internship training at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, TX, he transitioned to the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Michigan to complete his clinical training. His current clinical and scientific interest include using genomic and proteomic approaches to identify women who are at high risk for breast cancer recurrence and who may benefit from treatment intensification. He is also interested in identifying women who are cured after breast conserving surgery and who may not require adjuvant radiation. His other research interest includes identifying novel molecular targets for chemo‐ and radio-sensitization in women with triple‐negative or basal‐like breast cancer, including those molecules critical for maintaining breast cancer stem cells. Dr. Speers has received numerous awards and grants as a graduate student, resident and fellow for his research on triple‐negative breast cancer and will shortly transition to a faculty position to continue his clinical and scientific research with an emphasis on breast cancer.
BCRF Investigator Since