Titles and Affiliations

Ballve Lantero Scholar in Oncology
Professor, Department of Medicine
Co-Director, Simon Cancer Center Breast Cancer Program
Indiana University School of Medicine
Indianapolis, Indiana

Research area

Determining the factors involved in the initiation of breast cancers in order to develop potential new drug and combination therapies.

Impact

Studying active cancers may not provide insights into prevention strategies if the crucial factors are only present early in the development of cancer. Therefore, Dr. Miller is interested in the role of several factors in breast cancer initiation. Specifically, she and her team are determining if the hormone progesterone is crucial to the early development of cancers that are ultimately not hormone sensitive. Progesterone has been shown to be important to the development of ovarian cancer in laboratory models, even though the cancers themselves were not sensitive to progesterone. Inspired by these observations, Dr. Miller and her colleagues are conducting a similar study to see if the same is true for hormone-negative breast cancers. In other studies, Dr. Miller has identified a factor that plays a critical role in breast cancer development and is embarking on a new avenue of research to determine if this factor is a potential target for novel treatment strategies. 

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Miller and her colleagues have developed sophisticated laboratory models to study the origins of triple-negative breast cancer and how progesterone and estrogen act to promote or inhibit establishment of these tumors. They have found that progesterone is crucial to the metastatic potential of breast cancer cells and expect to test these results in clinical trials in the next year. This year, Dr. Miller will embark on new studies on a factor called TONSL that is important in repairing damage that may result when cells divide. About 1 in 5 women have breast cancer with extra gene copies of TONSL which give the cancer cells an inherent advantage by allowing them to become less sensitive to DNA damage, that would kill normal cells. Patients with TONSL-amplified breast cancers have a much higher risk of recurrence and death. 

What’s Next

In the coming year, Dr. Miller will investigate TONSL-amplified breast cancers in order to develop novel targeted therapies and hopes to move these discoveries to clinical trials in the near future. 

Biography

Kathy D. Miller received her MD in 1991 from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. Dr. Miller completed internal medicine training at Hopkins, then returned to her native Midwest for fellowship training at Indiana University, serving as Chief Fellow in 1997. She returned to Indiana University in 1999, attaining the rank of Professor and Ballvé-Lantero Scholar in 2014. 

Dr. Miller’s career has combined both laboratory and clinical research in breast cancer. She became chair of the ECOG-ACRIN Breast Core Committee in January 2014. In this role she works with academic scientists and community oncologists to develop trials that combine clinical and biologic endpoints yet remain feasible in non-academic settings. Dr. Miller honed her ability to coordinate multi-center trials as principal investigator for three previous ECOG trials. In addition, she serves as principal investigator of the National Clinical Trials Network at Indiana University.

BCRF Investigator Since

2003