Director, Central Nervous System Metastasis Program
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School
Seeking to identify new strategies for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer that has spread to the brain.
Genetic analyses of brain metastases and primary tumors are conducted to identify early events in tumor progression that promote brain metastasis.
These studies may uncover new therapeutic targets that will reduce deaths due to breast cancer brain metastasis.
Breast cancer brain metastasis occurs in more than a third of patients with advanced breast cancer. While advances in cancer therapies have improved our ability to control breast cancer outside of the brain, more breast cancer patients are dying of brain metastases.
The prognosis of cancer patients who develop brain metastasis is poor, with only 20 percent of patients surviving at one year. The genetic and molecular mechanisms that drive metastasis are largely unknown, and a better understanding of how these mechanisms work within brain metastasis is urgently needed.
The goal of Dr. Brastianos’ BCRF research is to identify new therapeutic opportunities for patients with brain metastases. Through national and international collaborations, her team has created one of the largest collections of brain metastasis tissue samples. Using the latest genomic technology and analytic tools, they will analyze 150 clinically annotated brain metastases and compare gene expression in the brain metastasis to that of the original breast tumor. They will then reconstruct the evolutionary lineage within the primary tumor that led to the brain metastasis, thus pinpointing the key alterations driving metastasis, some of which may represent novel therapeutic targets.
Identification of these mutations or pathways could help identify those cancer patients most likely to develop brain metastases, enabling more patient-tailored management and treatment.
Dr. Priscilla Brastianos is the Director of the Central Nervous System Metastasis Program at Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School. Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, she received her BSc in biochemistry and chemistry from the University of British Columbia, where she graduated as her class valedictorian. She completed her medical school training at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and her internal medicine residency training at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Following her training at Johns Hopkins, she pursued her fellowship training at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital. As a young physician-scientist, Dr. Brastianos received a number of prestigious awards for her scholarship and research.
Dr. Brastianos’ research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that drive brain metastases. Her pioneering work has led to national multicenter cooperative group trials that she is leading. She also leads a multidisciplinary central nervous system metastasis clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her hope is that the findings from genomic studies will provide an understanding of the molecular pathways that drive brain metastasis, which will allow the development of more rational therapeutic approaches for this common and devastating complication of cancer.