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Kathy S. Albain, MD, FACP
Director, Breast Clinical Research Program
Co-Director, Breast Oncology Center
Director, Thoracic Oncology Program
Professor of Medicine,
Stritch School of Medicine
Loyola University Chicago
Goal: To prevent resistance to treatments for estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers and triple negative breast cancers (TNBCs).
Impact: Drs. Albain and Osipo are studying a gene called DAXX that blocks breast cancer stem cells (CSCs). CSCs are the cells believed to allow tumors to survive and grow. The team is investigating how DAXX affects a patient’s response to chemotherapy and to a class of anti-cancer drugs called PARP inhibitors, used to treat some triple negative breast cancers (TNBC). Their work may reveal a way to increase DAXX expression in breast cancer cells and improve patient survival.
What’s next: The team will focus on the role of DAXX as a breast cancer suppressor and as a predictor of response to therapies in both ER-positive and triple negative disease.
While breast cancers that rely on estrogen for growth can be treated with endocrine (anti-hormone) therapy, resistance to this treatment often develops. Drs. Albain and Osipo are studying a potential biomarker called DAXX that may predict response to endocrine therapy in patients with ER-positive breast cancer. They’re also investigating high DAXX expression in TNBCs, which appears to improve response to standard chemotherapy and a class of targeted drugs called PARP inhibitors.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Developing strategies to block the survival of dormant breast cancer stem cells in order to improve patient outcomes.
Impact: Estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers are treated with endocrine therapy, such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors. While these therapies are effective, resistance remains a major challenge. Drug-resistant tumors continue to grow and are more likely to spread to other organs (metastasize). Drs. Albain and Osipo have discovered several novel pathways that appear to be very important for the survival of breast cancer stem cells—cells most likely to survive anti-cancer therapies that may lie dormant for many years. Their efforts may inform the development of new strategies to block survival of dormant cancer stem cells and reduce drug resistance in ER-positive and triple negative breast cancers.
Current investigation: The team has been investigating novel cancer stem cell biomarkers that can predict the potential for response to treatment as well as resistance to therapy. Their most recent work has been focused on the biomarker DAXX.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Albain and Osipo have discovered that the DAXX gene is involved in the response to endocrine therapy in ER-positive breast cancer cells and that this effect is through a suppression of breast cancer stem cells. Similarly, in triple negative breast cancer cells, they found that high DAXX expression improves response to standard chemotherapy and to drugs that inhibit PARP.
What’s next: With the support of BCRF, the team will pursue three objectives:
- Understanding how DAXX inhibits breast cancer stem cells in ER-positive breast cancer.
- Determining how DAXX affects response to chemotherapy and PARP inhibitor treatment in TNBC.
Validating these findings in patient tumor biopsies obtained at diagnosis and following treatment.
Kathy S. Albain is Professor of Medicine (tenured) at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and is a Dean’s Senior Scholar. As a member of the Division of Hematology/Oncology, she devotes her clinical practice to patients with breast and lung cancer at Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center. She is Co-leader of the Breast Cancer Program (with Clodia Osipo, PhD), Director of the Breast Clinical Research Program, Co-director of the multidisciplinary Breast Oncology Center, and Director of the Thoracic Oncology Program. Dr. Albain is involved in national research and advisory activities pertaining to breast and lung cancers as well as cancer survivorship and special populations research. She chaired the Committee on Special Populations for SWOG, an NCI cooperative group, from its inception. This committee conducted novel research that addressed gender differences in cancer, survivorship issues, and outcome and treatment of special populations. A lay advocates program was formed under her leadership. Following SWOG reorganization, Dr. Albain served as co-chair of its Cancer Survivorship Committee. She also co-chairs an international breast cancer survivorship collaboration. Dr. Albain is a member of the SWOG working groups for breast and lung cancer. She is a member of the international Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group and Steering Committee. She was a charter member of the NIH Committee on Research on Women’s Health and completed a term on the FDA Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC). She has over 170 publications in peer-reviewed journals and major textbooks, and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.