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Karen Anderson, MD, PhD

Associate Professor
The Biodesign Institute and Mayo Clinic School of Medicine
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona

Current Research

  • Seeking a breast cancer vaccine to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence after surgery.
  • A multi-disciplinary approach is applied to identify biological targets for vaccine development.
  • This research is breaking ground in developing vaccines that may improve response to immunotherapy in triple negative and other breast cancers.

Successful immunotherapy for breast cancer is hampered by a poor immune response in most breast tumors. Clinical trials in patients with triple negative breast cancer have shown some benefit, but the response rate is still very low. Vaccines are one way to boost the immune system for a better response to immunotherapy. Dr. Anderson is leading efforts in vaccine development to improve the effectiveness of current immunotherapy drugs. 

Full Research Summary

Targeted immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors has been effective in a subset of patients with solid tumors, including triple negative breast cancer. These findings highlight the critical role of the immune system in cancer development, but treatments with better response rates and less toxicity are needed.

Cancer vaccines can enhance the response of specialized immune cells called T cells that are critical to anti-tumor immunity and may improve the effectiveness of checkpoint inhibitors. 

The focus of Dr. Anderson's BCRF research is to identify target proteins for breast cancer vaccine development, with a long-range goal to deliver vaccines to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence after surgery.

Her team is developing a proteomics pipeline for the rapid discovery and biochemical validation of breast cancer tumor antigens for vaccine development. To accomplish this, they are leveraging their collective expertise in breast cancer genomics, bioinformatics, mathematical modeling, high-throughput protein display, mass spectrometry, and immune monitoring. 

They developed new mathematical and computational tools for identifying peptides (small segments of proteins) for breast cancer vaccines. They have selected several commonly mutated targets, such as mutations in TP53 and PIK3CA, for vaccine and T cell therapy development. 

The goal is to generate highly specific T cells for eradication of breast cancer tumor cells.


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 has identified novel targets for future breast cancer vaccine development using next‐generation sequencing and high‐throughput functional genomics. She is a current member of the NCI Cancer Biomarkers Study Section and has published over 40 peer‐reviewed publications.

Grid Researcher Headshot - Anderson K

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Estée Lauder Companies’ North America Manufacturing & Distribution and Global Research & Development Award

Area(s) of Focus