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Matthew J. Ellis, MB, BChir, BSc., PhD, FRCP
Director of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center
Professor of Medicine and
Cellular and Molecular Biology
Baylor College of Medicine
Goal: To develop a non-invasive test to monitor response to treatment, so that patients can be switched to other therapies when the current treatment is not working.
Impact: Dr. Ellis is developing a blood-based assay to measure tumor DNA that would determine whether cancer therapy is working effectively in patients. His research may lead to better, more personalized, treatment and improved outcomes for those with breast cancer.
What’s next: In the next year, Dr. Ellis will continue testing the assay using tumor DNA from patients with advanced breast cancer. He is also developing a tumor DNA monitoring approach for the management of advanced breast cancer.
Because of a new technology called liquid biopsy, it is now possible to track changes in tumor DNA in a sample of blood. These changes may indicate that the patient’s tumor is no longer responding to therapy and save valuable time by switching to a different drug. While experimental, this technique may be a promising alternative to imaging the tumor after a course of therapy by allowing real-time monitoring of tumor response. Dr. Ellis is testing a liquid biopsy assay in patients undergoing treatment for breast cancer to determine if it can track response as effectively as imaging.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Identifying better ways of monitoring tumor response to therapy.
Impact: Tumors develop because of the accumulation of changes in the genome called “somatic mutations” that occur during the course of tumor development. These mutations are only found in tumor cells, not in normal cells. Liquid biopsy is an exciting new technology that makes it possible to detect circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in a sample of blood. Dr. Ellis is developing a ctDNA assay that would allow for rapid monitoring of the breast cancer and response to therapy. If successful, it would allow doctors to assess treatment effectiveness early in the course of therapy so that any necessary changes in treatment can be made before a patient’s cancer becomes incurable.
Current investigation: He and his colleagues have been collecting blood samples from patients with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) who are undergoing chemotherapy to monitor the changes in the tumor’s genetic signature from ctDNA in their blood.
What he’s accomplished so far: The trial has enrolled more than 75 percent of project number of patients. Dr. Ellis and his team are continuing to expand liquid biopsy testing and recently opened a state-of-the-art, customized lab for that purpose.
What’s next: In the next year, Dr. Ellis will continue to test this assay in patients being treated for advanced breast cancer. These patients are monitored regularly for treatment response by imaging the tumor. The goal is to determine whether his ctDNA assay can predict the results of the next breast imaging scan to determine if it could potentially save lives by allowing doctors to switch therapy as soon as the tumor stops responding, rather than waiting to complete therapy and measure response by imaging.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Matthew Ellis completed his medical training in the U.K. at the Universities of Cambridge and London. After 11 years at Washington University in St Louis, Dr. Ellis is the incoming Director of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center and Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Texas. His research interests include the identification of genes that affect responses and resistance to endocrine therapy in breast cancer Patients. Dr. Ellis is also co-principal investigator for the NCI-funded Proteome Characterization Center and co-project leader for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Breast Project. Dr. Ellis was the recipient of ASCO's 2015 Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award and Lecture for his pioneering research into the clinical relevance of activating mutations in HER2 and in the deployment of patient-derived xenografts for the pharmacological annotation of breast cancer genomes.