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Karen Anderson, MD, PhD

Professor, Biodesign Institute
Associate Dean of Strategic Research
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona

Current Research

Goal: To develop precision vaccines and immune therapies to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Impact: Dr. Anderson has created and evaluated two new methods for identifying biological targets for vaccine development. Breast cancer vaccines could improve response to immunotherapy in patients with triple negative and other types of breast cancer.

What’s next: Dr. Anderson and her team will investigate breast cancer tumor proteins that could inform the development of vaccines and immunotherapies.

Currently, there is only one FDA-approved immunotherapy for breast cancer, and it benefits just a small subset of women. Dr. Anderson is studying the proteins in breast cancers that can be recognized by specialized immune cells (T cells). These efforts could lead to the creation of vaccines and additional targeted therapies that treat a broader range of patients.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Developing cancer vaccines that would enhance the response of specialized immune cells called T cells, which are critical to anti-tumor immunity and may improve the effectiveness of current immunotherapy drugs.

Impact: Targeted immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors has been effective in some patients with solid tumors, including triple negative breast cancer, but only a subset of patients will respond. Dr. Anderson’s efforts to identify immune biomarkers that can be used to predict treatment response could inform the development of new targeted and combination therapies that will hopefully lead to better outcomes.

Current investigation: She and her team have been developing rapid computational tools and highly sensitive biochemical methods to help them to determine what proteins in breast cancers can be recognized by the T cells of the immune system.  

What she’s learned so far: Dr. Anderson’s team developed and validated two new computational programs, one for the prediction and selection of target proteins from tumor sequencing data, and one for proteomic analysis of potential tumor targets for immunotherapy. They are now using these to develop vaccines and T cell immune therapies for breast cancer.

What’s next: Dr. Anderson and her team will continue to utilize the developed mathematical tools to improve the prediction and design of breast cancer vaccine targets, including mutations in PIK3CA. They will assess the utility of targeting the PIK3CA mutations and other breast cancer tumor proteins to develop better vaccines and immunotherapies. Proteomics—the large-scale study of proteins made throughout the body—is being used to advance every aspect of cancer care, including risk assessment and early detection.


Dr. Karen Anderson is a translational researcher at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, with a joint appointment as a breast cancer medical oncologist at Mayo Clinic Arizona. Her research focuses on how the immune system can be harnessed to detect and alter cancer development. Dr. Anderson has been the principal investigator of two early‐phase breast cancer vaccine trials, and has developed methods for proteomic immune profiling of breast cancer for early detection and monitoring of patients. She is now developing precision breast cancer vaccines and immunotherapies using next‐generation sequencing and high‐throughput functional genomics. She has published over 80 peer‐reviewed publications..

Grid Researcher Headshot - Anderson K

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Autonation DRV PNK Award

Area(s) of Focus