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Sandra Ryeom, PhD

Associate Professor
Co-leader Tumor Biology Program, Abramson Cancer Center
Program Chair, Cancer Biology Graduate Group
Perelman School of Medicine
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA

Current Research

Goal: To discover biomarkers that predict risk of cancer therapy-associated cardiovascular disease.

Impact: Dr. Ryeom is investigating how certain treatments for breast cancer raise the risk of developing heart disease in the short and long term. Understanding how this occurs may reveal ways to prevent these therapies from harming healthy cells in and around the heart. 

What’s next: She will gain a deeper understanding of how the cells lining the heart affect therapy-induced cardiac damage. She will also continue her studies on the effects of exercise following breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Several highly effective treatments for breast cancer, such as radiation therapy and a class of chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines, have led to improved survival rates for patients. However, these therapies can also result in cardiac damage that contributes to heart attacks, heart failure, and more. Dr. Ryeom is investigating how this damage occurs in order to identify both biomarkers of therapy-induced cardiotoxicity and ways to prevent it.

Full Research Summary

Research area: Understanding of mechanisms underlying cancer therapy-associated cardiovascular disease in breast cancer.

Impact: Breast cancer is the most common female cancer worldwide, affecting over 3.8 million women in the US alone. Highly effective therapies, including anthracyclines and radiation therapy, have resulted in improved survival rates. However, these therapies are associated with both immediate and long-term risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Declines in cardiac function during therapy can interrupt cancer treatments. In the long-term, deaths due to CVD exceed those from cancer in survivors. To understand the impact of cancer treatment on cardiac health, Dr. Ryeom is focusing on cardiac endothelial cells (ECs)—the cells that line the vasculature of the heart. The findings of these studies may identify biomarkers of risk for CVD as well as therapeutic targets to prevent breast cancer therapy-induced cardiotoxicity.

Current investigation: Dr. Ryeom and her team are conducting studies to determine the role of the cardiac ECs as the initiating step in cancer therapy-induced cardiotoxicity. 

What she’s learned so far: Damage of cardiac ECs results in EC death, leaky cardiac vessels, and damage to heart muscle cells. Dr. Ryeom studied heart vessels after anthracycline and radiation therapy in breast cancer patients and found that damage does occur first in the vessels and that early signs of cardiac damage can be detected.

What’s next: Dr. Ryeom and her team will form a detailed picture of how cardiac ECs serve as the gatekeeper to cardiac damage due to their unique sensitivity to chemo- and radiation therapy. The long-term goal is to translate results from these studies to the clinic by improving treatment and reducing the risk for cancer treatment-associated CVD. 

Biography

Dr. Sandra Ryeom is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cancer Biology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously, Dr. Ryeom was a Research Associate at the Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Ryeom has extensively studied the regulation and role of the vascular endothelium in the tumor microenvironment, during development and in different organ environments as a critical cellular population in stem cell niches.  She has also investigated the regulation of endogenous angiogenesis inhibitors and links to classic tumor suppressive pathways as well as cross talk between endothelial cells and stromal cells during pathologic conditions as well as during development. Her research cuts across normal human development and is relevant to childhood cancers and many other cancers, such as breast cancer, found in adults.  Dr. Ryeom completed her bachelor’s degree in physics from Wellesley College and doctoral degree in cell biology and genetics at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medicine. Dr. Ryeom completed her training with a postdoctoral fellowship in cell biology at Harvard Medical School.

BCRF Investigator Since

2016

Donor Recognition

The Garrett B. Smith Foundation/S. Arthur and Dorothy Neufeld Foundation Award