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Mien-Chie Hung, PhD
China Medical University
Goal: To improve outcomes in patients with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) by enhancing response to existing therapies and developing new ones.
Impact: Encouraging results have been seen with immunotherapy using anti-PD1 monoclonal antibodies, however, the response rate to this therapy is only about 15-20 percent. Drs. Hung and Hortobagyi are developing better strategies for the treatment of breast cancer patients and extending their studies to identify other therapeutic targets that to block the cancer stem cell-like characteristics of aggressive breast cancer .
What’s next: The team will finalize their studies on the mechanisms of resistance to anti PD-1 therapy and expand their research to develop novel therapeutic strategies aimed at the stem cell capabilities of aggressive breast cancers, particularly TNBC.
TNBC is an aggressive form of breast cancer that is challenging to treat and is more likely to spread and recur. Part of its aggressive nature is due to cancer stem cell-like characteristics. Cancer stem cells—sometime called tumor initiating cells—are thought to be drivers of breast cancer metastasis. Drs. Hung and Hortobagyi have identified a novel function of common protein in promoting cancer stem cell-ness. They are conducting studies to confirm these findings and determine whether this protein, which circulates in the blood, may be used as a biomarker for identifying patients for targeted therapies.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Developing novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC).
Impact: Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer with limited treatment options. Targeted therapies such as the immune checkpoint (anti-PD-L1) therapies, have had limited success in TNBC. Some patients experience a sustained benefit while others only experience side effects. One reason for the variation in response to immune or other therapies is that TNBC is a very heterogeneous disease–not only is there variability between different TNBC tumors but also within a single TNBC tumor. This intratumor heterogeneity is driven in part by cancer stem cells—a small population of cells within the tumor that are highly resistant to therapy and capable of forming new tumors. In the course of their BCRF-research, Drs. Hung and Hortobagyi discovered a unique function of a common protein called human ribonuclease 1 (hRNaseA) in promoting this stemlike quality.
Current investigation: In the coming year, Drs. Hung and Hortobagyi are pursuing studies in human ribonuclease 1 (hRNase1), which their preliminary finding show is associated with poorer survival in several subtypes of breast cancers. They will investigate the role of hRNase1 in the initiation of breast cancer and examine its potential as a non-invasive serum biomarker for breast cancer. These studies will lead to the identification of a novel therapeutic strategy against breast cancer aimed at decreasing the tumor-initiating capabilities.
Mien-Chie Hung, Ph.D. is the President for China Medical University in Taichung, Taiwan. He was vice president for basic research and professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the National Taiwan University and his PhD from Brandeis University. After completing postdoctoral training with Dr. Robert A. Weinberg at the Whitehead Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Hung was recruited to MD Anderson in 1986. Dr. Hung is internationally recognized for his studies of signal transduction pathways regulated by tyrosine kinase growth factor receptors, such as EGFR and HER-2/neu, as well as molecular mechanisms of tumorigenesis. He is one of members of Selection Committee for Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science category and 2016 Pezcoller Foundation-AACR Award. Dr. Hung also serves as an editorial member for many journals in cancer research to evaluate quality of submission. Notable, he is one of the founding Editorial Members for Cancer Cell, serves as Editor-in-chief for American Journal for Cancer Research (2015-2017) and Senior Editor for Cancer Research (American Association for Cancer Research, 2018-2021). Dr. Hung was inducted as an Academician of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan in 2002, and was selected as a Fellow in Biological Sciences section, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS Fellow) in 2010. He served as President for the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America (SCBA) from 2004-2005 and is also the recipient of SCBA’s Presidential Award in 2011 and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. In addition, Dr. Hung was awarded with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center LeMaistre Outstanding Achievement Award in 2011 as well as Faculty Achievement Award in Education (1993) and in Basic Research (1998 & 2017). Dr. Hung is a recipient of prestigious educational awards including 2017 UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award and John P. McGovern Outstanding Teacher Award University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston. Dr. Hung is the only faculty who receives the latter award four times.