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Nancy U. Lin, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Clinical Director, Breast Oncology Center
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Goal: To discover strategies to prevent and treat the spread of breast cancer to the brain.
Impact: Therapies for HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer (MBC) can lose their effectiveness, causing the death of many patients with MBC. Dr. Lin is testing new approaches to the treatment of patients with HER2-positive breast cancer brain metastases to understand what leads to treatment resistance, which may inform new strategies to overcome it.
What’s next: She and her team will study blood samples collected from patients with HER2-positive MBC (with or without brain metastasis) in order to explore the mechanisms of drug resistance.
While therapies targeting HER2 are highly effective in patients with HER2-positive MBC, many patients will die of MBC because treatments lose their effectiveness. This is because they are either ineffective in the brain and/or because the cancer is able to evade the effects of HER2-based treatments in other ways. Dr. Lin aims to understand how treatment resistance develops, which may lead to more effective treatments for patients with both early-stage and metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Advancing new treatments and prevention strategies for HER2-positive breast cancer patients with brain metastasis.
Impact: Treatments targeting HER2 are highly effective in patients with HER2-positive, metastatic breast cancer (MBC). However, patients still die of MBC because these therapies lose their effectiveness, either because they are ineffective in the brain (a common location for advanced HER2-positive breast cancer to spread) and/or the cancer is able to escape the effects of HER2-based treatments by other means. Dr. Lin is conducting studies to understand how treatment resistance develops, which may lead to new strategies to overcome resistance. Her work could also inform the development of more effective treatments for patients with both early-stage and metastatic, HER2-positive breast cancer.
Current investigation: Dr. Lin and her team are conducting laboratory studies and clinical trials to test new combinations strategies in patients with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer. In addition, they have partnered with MBC patients, who have donated thousands of blood samples to the team’s Ending Metastatic Breast Cancer for Everyone (EMBRACE) research study. They are now analyzing these samples to understand what happens when cancers become resistant to treatment in the hope of uncovering new ways to overcome drug resistance.
What she’s learned so far: She and her colleagues carried out a clinical trial testing the combination of the anti-HER2 drug neratinib and capecitabine for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer that had spread to the brain. The regimen led to significant tumor shrinkage in half of the patients and is now included in national treatment guidelines.
What’s next: Dr. Lin aims to test new approaches to treating patients with HER2-positive breast cancer brain metastases. She will also continue to study blood samples collected from patients with HER2-positive, metastatic breast cancer to identify what leads to treatment resistance.
Dr. Lin is a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Lin received her medical degree at Harvard Medical School and subsequently completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Brigham & Women's Hospital and a fellowship in Hematology/Oncology at Dana-Farber/Partners Cancer Care. Since 2012, she has served as Clinical Director of the Breast Oncology Center at DFCI.
Dr. Lin's focus is on developing novel targeted therapies for patients with advanced breast cancer and exploring mechanisms of drug resistance, with a particular interest in patients with breast cancer that has metastasized to the brain. Dr. Lin is leading multiple ongoing and planned clinical trials evaluating a variety of targeted approaches in patients with metastatic breast cancer. Her work is highly collaborative and involves close working relationships with clinicians, laboratory investigators, and patient advocates. Dr. Lin's honors and awards include a Young Investigator Award and Career Development Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology. She is a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, and Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium.