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Corey Speers, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
American Society for Radiation Oncology

Current Research

  • Seeking to improve outcomes in radiation-resistant triple negative breast cancers.
     
  • Potential therapeutic targets are tested in laboratory studies to improve response to radiation therapy.
     
  • These studies are part of a larger effort to identify targeted strategies in triple negative breast cancer. 

Radiation therapy is an important and effective component of localized treatment for breast cancer. Triple negative breast cancers, however tend to be resistant to radiation, increasing the risk of recurrence. Dr. Speers is conducting a study to understand the nature of this resistance and has identified potential candidates for targeted therapy that will make radiation more effective against TNBC.

Full Research Summary

Although radiation therapy is an effective adjuvant treatment in many women with breast cancer, for a significant percentage of patients, the cancer will come back. This is especially true for women with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).  Given the lack of targeted therapies for TNBC and their relative insensitivity to radiation therapy, there is an urgent need for additional targets to improve response of TNBC to radiation therapy. 

One potential class of molecular targets for radiosensitization are called kinases. These critical signaling proteins are essential for cell survival and are often upregulated in cancer. In previous work, Dr. Speers and his team identified a number of cell cycle–associated kinases that were overexpressed in TNBC. These included kinases that regulate the most radiosensitive phase of the cell cycle, called G2/M. Their studies showed that two of these kinases, MELK and TTK, play an important role in mediating radioresistance in triple negative and basal-like breast cancers. 

In his American Society for Radiation Oncology research supported by BCRF, Dr. Speers is studying how cell cycle checkpoint kinases block the effects of radiation in TNBC. He will look at several potential mechanisms and test the effect of inhibiting cell cycle kinases on radiosensitivity. 

The successful completion of these studies will validate cell cycle kinases as effective radiosensitizing targets in TNBC as well as identify biomarkers of outcome and treatment response. Results from this study will serve as the foundation of a molecularly stratified clinical trial in TNBC that will be the direct outcome of these research studies. This trial, using checkpoint kinase inhibitors now in phase I/II trials, will serve as the capstone on a true “bench-to-bedside” research endeavor that may provide hope to those currently without effective targeted treatment options.

Biography

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

2018

Donor Recognition

The Blizzard Entertainment Award

Area(s) of Focus