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George F. Vande Woude, PhD
Distinguished Scientific Fellow
Van Andel Research Institute
Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Seeking to develop novel strategies to reduce drug resistance and metastasis in aggressive breast cancers.
- Laboratory studies are conducted to test a new drug target for combination therapy in triple negative breast cancers.
- This research may identify predictive biomarkers of response to targeted therapies and novel new combination approaches to counter drug resistance and prevent metastasis.
In order for a tumor to grow and spread to other tissues, it must activate cellular programs to support growth as well as the ability of tumor cells to invade and become mobile. Oncogenes are genes that drive this kind of activity and cause a tumor cell to become malignant. The research team of Drs. Vande Woude, Tsarfaty, and Graveel are conducting studies focused on an oncogene called MET in advanced breast cancers.
Full Research Summary
For a tumor to spread (a process called metastasis), tumor cells must be able to break through tissue barriers, enter the circulation, and become established in a new site. To achieve these steps, a tumor cell must acquire unique physical and molecular properties. This often involves the activation of a gene that is normally not active in adult tissue. The MET gene is one example. MET gene expression changes the properties of cancer cells and allows them to spread more easily.
The research team of Drs. Vande Woude, Tsarfaty, and Graveel use a combination of novel imaging techniques and mathematical models to study how MET influences breast cancer metastasis, metabolism, and drug resistance in HER2-positive and triple negative breast cancers. Their recent studies have identified potential combination approaches that could reduce drug resistance and prevent metastasis in these diseases.
In the coming year, the international research team will continue to leverage the unique models to identify and characterize the modifier genes that promote MET-mediated tumorigenicity and further explore the potential of MET inhibitors in aggressive breast cancers that are resistant to other therapies.
Overall, these studies will provide new insights into the genes that influence breast cancer initiation and progression and identify potential prognostic signatures in patients who are responsive to MET-targeted therapies and lead to the development of novel combination therapies.
Dr. George F. Vande Woude received his M.S. (1962) and PhD (1964) from Rutgers University. From 1964-1972, he served first as a postdoctoral research associate, then as a research virologist for the US Department of Agriculture at Plum Island Animal Disease Center. In 1972, he joined the National Cancer Institute and from 1983-1998 was the Director of the Advanced Bioscience Laboratories-Basic Research Program. In 1993, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and served as Chair of the Section for Medical Genetics, Hematology & Oncology (2004-2007). In 1999, he became the first Director of Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), a position he held until February 2009. He is currently a Distinguished Scientific Fellow at VARI.
Since the 1970s Dr. Vande Woude’s laboratory research has focused on understanding the molecular basis of cancer. Dr. Vande Woude’s laboratory was first to determine the structure and enhancer function of proviral long terminal repeats (LTR) and the first to demonstrate that a normal cellular protooncogene could be activated as an oncogene. These findings provided a foundation for the search for active oncogenes in tumors. In 1984, Dr. Vande Woude discovered human Met oncogene, a member of the tyrosine kinase growth factor receptor family that is altered in the majority of cancers. In addition to many basic scientific discoveries, his laboratory has also generated novel tools to help with drug development. Currently, his lab is developing novel preclinical models for evaluating the efficacy of tyrosine kinase inhibition in cancer patients.