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Mary L. (Nora) Disis, MD, FASCO

University of Washington
Seattle, Washington

Titles and Affiliations

Athena Distinguished Professor of Breast Cancer Research
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Research area

Developing vaccines to reduce the risk of breast cancer.


Obesity is an important risk factor for breast cancer. An early event that leads to increased breast cancer risk is the development of inflammation in fat tissue. This inflammation results in significant metabolic stress and imbalances of the immune cells that can lead to cancer.

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Disis and her team have created an anti-inflammatory vaccine (ADVac) targeting proteins highly expressed in inflammatory fat. This vaccine works by generating high levels of a substance that helps feed and reduce stress in inflammatory immune cells drawn to the surrounding inflammation induced by obesity.

What’s next

The team will conduct a study in laboratory models to determine the extent ADVac immunization can reverse metabolic dysfunction at the tumor and prevent cancer development. They will also collect data that will help quickly identify where ADVac-specific immune cells go in the body after vaccination and if beneficial changes in inflammation patterns are observed in other organs. The addition of the type II diabetes drug metformin, which helps restore the body’s response to insulin, will also be tested for improved vaccine efficacy and prevention of tumor development. This new vaccine could reduce the development of metabolic dysfunction that leads to breast cancer in addition to bringing health benefits to those who struggle with obesity.


Mary L. (Nora) Disis, MD, is the Athena Distinguished Professor of Breast Cancer Research, Associate Dean for Translational Health Sciences in the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine, Professor of Medicine and Adjunct Professor of Pathology and Obstetrics and Gynecology at UW and a Member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Her research interest is in the discovery of new molecular immunologic targets in solid tumors for the development of vaccine and cellular therapy for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. In addition, her group evaluates the use of the immune system to aid in the diagnosis of cancer and develops novel assays and approaches to quantitate and characterize human immunity. Dr. Disis holds a leadership award from the Komen for the Cure Foundation and was recently named as an American Cancer Society Clinical Professor. She is the Editor-in-Chief of JAMA Oncology.

BCRF Investigator Since


Donor Recognition

The Delta Air Lines Award

Areas of Focus

Lifestyle & Prevention