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Jenny C. Chang, MD
Director, Methodist Cancer Center
Professor, Weill Cornell Medical College
Professor and Emily Herrmann Chair in Cancer Research, Houston Methodist Hospital
The Methodist Hospital Research Institute
Goal: To develop new treatments for triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).
Impact: The effectiveness of immunotherapy has been shown to be limited when treating TNBC, an aggressive form of breast cancer. Dr. Chang is conducting studies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapy by specifically targeting the tumor microenvironment and developing novel therapeutic combinations. Her team has established state-of-the-art laboratory models to accomplish this and hopes to improve the treatment outcomes for TNBC patients.
What’s next: She and her team will continue to test two experimental therapeutic approaches designed to treat TNBC—one that targets the tumor microenvironment (the cellular environment that surrounds a tumor), the other a combination therapy for metaplastic breast cancer.
TNBC tends to grow and spread faster than other types of breast cancer and the lack of hormone receptors or HER2 make it unresponsive to hormone therapy treatments or HER2 targeted treatments. New immunotherapy drugs have shown some effectiveness in patients with TNBC, but the response rate remains low. Dr. Chang is studying new ways to enhance response to these drugs so more patients can benefit.
Full Research Summary
Research goal: To develop and test novel potential drug targets for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).
Impact: TNBC is a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer and while new immunotherapy drugs have shown some effectiveness in these patients, the response rate is low. Dr. Chang and her team are testing the hypothesis that modification of the tumor microenvironment (the environment surrounding a tumor) can dramatically improve the response to immune-based novel therapies. Their work may reveal new targeted therapeutic strategies for patients with TNBC, who have poor outcomes due to high rates of recurrence, metastatic spread, and lack of approved targeted therapies.
Current investigation: Dr. Chang is utlizing state-of-the-art laboratory models to improve the efficacy of immunotherapy and to test novel combinations of treatments that may be effective against TNBC.
What she’s learned so far: Using these models, her team has identified interleukin 12, a component of the tumor microenvironment, that can be targeted to make tumors more responsive to immunotherapies. She and her colleagues have also discovered a novel signaling inhibitor, L-NMMA, which targets a specific molecule known to promote tumor growth and metastasis. They are evaluating the efficacy of combining this signaling inhibitor with alpelisib (P13Kα-inhibitor) to treat this aggressive disease.
What’s next: She and her team will continue to test the ability of interleukin 12 to alter the tumor microenvironment to improve immunotherapy treatment for TNBC. They will also continue to test targeting of the signaling inhibitor L-NMMA in combination with alpelisib for treating this aggressive form of breast cancer. Dr. Chang will fully develop these preclinical studies and expects them to move to clinical evaluation in the near future.
Dr. Chang obtained medical degree from Cambridge University, England and completed fellowship in medical oncology at the Royal Marsden Hospital/Institute for Cancer Research. She was awarded research doctorate from the University of London. Breast cancer has been the focus of her research. She plans to improve the outcome of breast cancer patients by translating scientific discoveries directly into clinical practice and therapeutics. To this end, her most recent work has centered on identifying the mechanisms by which breast cancer stem cells survive chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal therapy, leading to recurrences, relapses, and metastasis. Her recent work has focused on the intrinsic therapy resistance of cancer stem cells, resulting in several publications and international presentations. In addition, she holds several federal grants evaluating novel biologic agents and patents on new technological advances, especially in the area of high throughput molecular profiling.