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Sofia D. Merajver, MD, PhD
Professor of Internal Medicine and Epidemiology
Scientific Director, Breast Cancer Research Program
Director, Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Seeking new strategies for the prevention and treatment of metastatic breast cancer.
- Tumor cells from patients with aggressive cancers are studied in the laboratory to identify those cells that are responsible for metastasis.
- These studies may identify interventions to prevent metastasis in patients with aggressive breast cancers.
While most early stage breast cancers have a very good prognosis, others will spread to different organs, such as the brain, bones, liver or lung–a process called metastasis. Metastatic breast cancer is an incurable disease and while new treatments are extending lives for patients, preventing metastasis will save lives. Dr. Merajver’s group is conducting studies using devices that allow them to study which breast cancer cells can migrate to different tissues. In this way, they hope to identify ways to prevent metastasis from occurring.
Full Research Summary
Very aggressive breast cancers such as inflammatory breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer, and other rapidly progressive breast cancers have acquired the ability to promote cancer cell motility and the cancer's ability to survive in diverse organ locations in a process called metastasis.
Dr. Merajver and her team have designed and are testing simple synthetic devices that mimic human organs. They are particularly interested in understanding which specific cells within early aggressive tumors are already equipped to spread to other organs (metastasize). In the last year, her team constructed an artificial blood brain barrier in which they study cancer cells from patients and were able to measure a probability that a patient’s tumor will be able to spread to the brain.
They are continuing this work in hope that they can identify strategies that will prevent metastases from occurring in women diagnosed with aggressive breast cancers in the US and worldwide, with an emphasis on countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where resources for cancer health are scarce.
Dr. Sofia Merajver is a physician scientist with a translational focus on integrating molecular genetics of breast cancer with fundamental studies of the dynamics of cancer signal transduction into innovative clinical strategies for women at high risk for breast cancer and cancer patients. As Director of the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program and as Scientific Director of the Breast Oncology Program, she is engaged with clinical translational research that tests molecular, engineering, and educational interventions for cancer patients. From 2010-2013 she served as Director of the University of Michigan Center for Global Health, a University-wide, cross-disciplinary global health translational research project to ameliorate health disparities in the US and globally. Her research in the molecular biology of cancer and aggressive cancer phenotypes encompasses work on the role of rho and other signaling and cytoskeletal proteins in cancer cell invasion and motility, the role of copper in angiogenesis, and metabolism and signal transduction in cancer. Her research laboratory has collaborated with systems biologists and modelers for over 7 years on projects that focused on the fundamental structure of information transmission in cellular signal transduction cascades. This work has brought together physicists, electrical engineers, biological chemists, cell biologists, and oncologists working on different aspects of the problem both from a theoretical standpoint and for the experimental testing of the models’ predictions. In the Merajver laboratory, teams of molecular biologists are working alongside faculty and students in mathematics, bioinformatics, and engineering to model and understand the details of single cell motion and the key signaling intermediates that determine the switch between motion and proliferation, both structurally and metabolically.