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Norman Wolmark, MD

Chairman and Principal Investigator, National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP)
Professor and Chairman of Human Oncology
Drexel University School of Medicine
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Current Research

  • Seeking to improve outcomes for patients with breast cancers that have high amounts of both the HER2 protein and the estrogen receptor.

  • Laboratory studies are conducted to develop a human-derived model system that may guide treatment decision and discovery of new targeted therapies.

  • These studies may rapidly advance drug discovery and personalized treatment in HER2/hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

Despite the dramatic success of endocrine and HER2-targeted treatments for patients with hormone receptor (HR) and HER2-positive breast cancer, metastatic breast cancer remains an incurable disease. Furthermore, once a therapy has failed a patient, it is not clear what the next therapy should be. This highlights the importance of understanding the molecular basis of resistance to these targeted therapies. Dr. Wolmark is leading studies to develop a novel model system derived from tumors of patients with HER2-positive/hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. These will be used in laboratory studies to test response to therapies and identify the underlying causes of drug resistance.

Full Research Summary

Women with HER2/hormone receptor-positive breast cancer (also known as Luminal B) are less likely to benefit from HER2-targeted therapies. Several explanations for this resistance have been demonstrated in laboratory studies, but their significance to patient experiences is not well known. Part of this is due to limitations in the model systems used for laboratory studies. 

The goal of Dr. Wolmark’s BCRF-supported research, conducted through the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), is to develop a laboratory model that accurately predicts a patient’s response to therapy. Patient-derived models (called PDX) are one way to study patient tumors in the laboratory. However, PDX models are time consuming and expensive, and thus cannot deliver information to benefit the patient in a timely fashion. 

The NSABP team is taking the PDX concept one-step further to develop a 3-dimensional system derived from patient tumors. This simplified system can more quickly provide answers on the likelihood a patient will respond to a drug. It can also be used to understand what is driving drug resistance, discover potential new targets for drug development, and test promising new drugs in systems that closely mirror the human breast cancers.


Dr. Norman Wolmark, MD, is Chairman of  NSABP Foundation, a not-for-profit academic research organization with a nearly 60-year history of conducting ground-breaking research studies in breast and colorectal cancer.

He is also Professor and Chairman of Human Oncology at Drexel University School of Medicine. Dr. Wolmark received his medical degree from McGill University of Montreal, and he completed his residency at the University of Pittsburgh. He served a fellowship in Surgical Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and he later became a cancer expert at the Surgery Branch of the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Wolmark belongs to numerous prestigious organizations including the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Association of Cancer Research, and the American Surgical Association.

Over his near 45-year tenure as a cancer researcher, Dr. Wolmark is extensively published, with more than 400 scientific journal articles and book chapters in print.  He is a widely sought-after speaker and lecturer in his field and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Women’s Cancer, The Journal of Clinical Oncology, and numerous advisory boards, and as an advisor to oncology programs, societies, and institutes throughout the United States and abroad.

Devoted to the evolution of large randomized clinical trials for the treatment and prevention of breast and bowel cancers, he is also a reviewer for the Journal of Clinical Oncology and the New England Journal of Medicine, and he is an editorial board member of the Journal of Women's Cancer and Clinical Breast Cancer.

Large Researcher Headshot - Wolmark Norman

BCRF Investigator Since


Area(s) of Focus