Titles and Affiliations

Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics
Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
The Biodesign Institute
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona

Research area

Identifying new therapeutic targets to treat highly aggressive breast cancers.

Impact

Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs) are those that lack expression of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and HER2. Because they lack an established target, TNBC is often difficult to treat. Dr. LaBaer is studying a tumor suppressor gene and the protein it encodes, called p53. Mutations in p53 are often found in TNBC, making p53 a potential target for treating this aggressive subtype of breast cancer. There are p53 mutations in 80 percent of TNBC cases that contribute to disease, however, these alone do not cause cancer and researchers have struggled to find ways to treat p53-mutated cancers. Dr. LaBaer’s work is aimed at identifying alternative targets for p53-mutant tumor cells. These may be other genes that work with p53 or other proteins that are activated by mutant p53. His findings could lead to the development of new combination approaches and personalized therapy for patients with TNBC.

Progress Thus Far

Using genome-editing technologies coupled to bioinformatic and machine learning analysis, Dr. LaBaer discovered specific mutations that can initiate metastasis when p53 is mutated. Mutations in several of these genes contributed to the formation of tumors in breast cancer models and could be potential therapeutic targets to block tumor progression.

What's next

Dr. LaBaer will continue developing innovative methods that can test thousands of mutated genes to discover drug-targetable mutations that co-exist and partner with mutant p53 to drive cancer progression. He and his team will confirm the key genes and mutations they have identified thus far and will expand their search for a class of drug-targetable mutations that could be translated into developing personalized treatment regimes. 

Biography

Joshua LaBaer is one of the nation's foremost investigators in the rapidly expanding field of personalized medicine. Formerly director of the Harvard Institute of Proteomics (HIP), he was recruited to ASU's Biodesign Institute as the first Piper Chair in Personalized Medicine.  Dr. LaBaer's efforts involve leveraging the Center's formidable resources for the discovery and validation of biomarkers—unique molecular fingerprints of disease—which can provide early warning for those at risk of major illnesses, including cancer and diabetes. This work is carried out in conjunction with the Partnership for Personalized Medicine, a multi-institution effort that includes the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle.

Dr. LaBaer is a board certified physician in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology and was an Instructor and Clinical Fellow in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and now serves as Adjunct Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic. He has contributed to over 140 original research publications, is an associate editor of the Journal of Proteome Research, a member of the editorial boards of Analytical Biochemistry, Current Opinion in Biotechnology, Cancer Biomarkers, Molecular Biosystems, and Clinical Proteomics. Formerly a member of the NCI’s Board of Scientific Advisors, he serves as chair of the NCI’s Early Detection Research Network Executive Committee and Co-Chair of its Steering Committee. He is the president of the US Human Proteome Organization and serves on a number of government and industry scientific advisory boards. He earned his medical degree and doctorate (biochemistry and biophysics) at University of California, San Francisco.