Titles and Affiliations

Associate Professor
Department of Surgery
Columbia University Irving Medical Center
New York, New York

Research area

Understanding why some breast cancer therapies cause cardiac damage and discovering biomarkers to inform treatment.

Impact

Cancer therapies such radiation therapy and the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin are highly effective in the treatment of breast cancer. However, these treatments can also result in significant adverse effects on the heart that contribute to heart attacks, heart failure, and other heart conditions. Cardiac conditions can also interrupt further cancer treatment. The underlying cause of cardiac damage by radiation therapy and doxorubicin is unknown. Dr. Ryeom aims to uncover why cardiac complications arise after treatment with radiation and chemotherapy. Her team is studying the cells that line the heart, called cardiac endothelial cells (ECs), which are known to be sensitive to radiation and doxorubicin. Their goal is to determine how ECs undergo cell death after doxorubicin and radiation treatment, and whether the loss of ECs is fundamental to enabling cancer treatment to damage the heart. Advancing our understanding of mechanisms underlying cancer therapy-induced cardiotoxicity in breast cancer and could lead to new treatments to prevent cardiac damage and complications in breast cancer survivors. 

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Ryeom’s team has found that ECs serve as gatekeepers that prevent chemotherapy from damaging the heart. ECs are sensitive to chemotherapy, however, and when they break down, the chemotherapy drugs can enter the heart and cause damage to cells in the heart. In the past year, Dr. Ryeom tested doxorubicin and trastuzumab in a laboratory model of HER2-positive breast cancer and found that although the treatments suppressed tumor growth, they also caused adverse effects of cardiac function. 

What's next

In the upcoming year, Dr. Ryeom will work to identify protein biomarkers that may be used to predict the likelihood of cardiotoxicity in response to doxorubicin. If successful, future treatment could include monitoring biomarker levels to identify patients at risk of cardiotoxicity before symptoms occur.

Biography

Dr. Sandra Ryeom is an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery and the Division of Surgical Sciences at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Dr. Ryeom’s research interests have been focused on 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 tumor progression and metastases. 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. She started her independent career at Children’s Hospital in Boston as an Instructor at Harvard Medical School followed by her move to the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine where she was a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Cancer Biology prior to her move to Columbia University Medical Center.

BCRF Investigator Since

2016

Donor Recognition

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

Areas of Focus