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Steffi Oesterreich, PhD
Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology
Professor & Vice Chair for Precision and Translational Pharmacology
Director of Education, Women's Cancer Research Center
Magee Women's Research Institute
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
Goal: To understand the underlying biology of invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), a common but understudied form of breast cancer.
Impact: Dr. Oesterreich is focused on identifying genes and pathways involved in the development of ILC, particularly rare histological subtypes of ILC that are poorly understood. Her hope is that these studies will inform precision medicine for lobular disease.
What’s next: The goal of her research over the next year is to better understand the different ILC variants, including their genetic and molecular make-up and, importantly, to understand their clinical implications. Her team will begin this complex study with a focused analysis of mixed invasive ductal and lobular cancer (mDLC).
Invasive lobular breast cancer (ILC) accounts for approximate 10-15 percent of all breast cancers and ranks as the 6th most common cancer in women. There is increasing appreciation of its unique clinical and molecular features, and over the last few years research has also identified a tremendous complexity of lobular disease. Dr. Oesterreich plans to characterize outcomes of patients with a rare histological subtype of ILC called mixed invasive ductal and lobular cancer (mDLC). These studies are important if we are to personalize treatment and care for patients affected by this understudied subtype of breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research Area: Understanding the unique clinical and molecular features of invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC).
Impact: Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) is the second most common subtype of breast cancer after invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). Because they typically over-produce the estrogen receptor, ILC are generally treated with anti-estrogen therapies. Dr. Oesterreich’s BCRF studies have identified a variety of distinct molecular subtypes and histological variants among ILC tumors that could be very informative about treatment and prognosis. Of particular interest is what is called mixed IDC/ILC (mDLC), which includes histological features of both IDC and ILC. Given that mDLC shares features with both ILC and IDC, it is important to understand how this affects its disease progression, therapy resistance and metastasis.
Current investigation: Dr. Oesterreich will utilize the UPMC Cancer Registry to identify patients diagnosed with ILC, IDC or mDLC and conduct analyses of patient outcomes to determine differences in disease outcome based on the subtype. Her team will also conduct molecular analyses on patient matched primary and metastatic mDLC to understand the factors driving the spread of mDLC to other tissues.
What she’s learned so far: Dr. Oesterreich’s team has made significant progress in characterizing unique aspects of ILC, such as different actions of the estrogen receptor in ILC associated with decreased response to antiestrogen therapy. They have also seen a tremendous complexity and heterogeneity of the disease, which are the focus of her current research.
The main interest of Dr. Oesterreich’s research is to further our understanding of hormone action in women’s cancer in order to use this knowledge for improved diagnosis and endocrine treatment. Her studies have focused on breast cancer and in receptor action in ovarian cancer. Her lab studies how the estrogen receptor (ER) functions, how its activity is regulated by diverse signaling pathways and through coregulator proteins, and if and how these mechanisms are perturbed in cancer cells. The Oesterreich lab is interested in novel concepts of ER action, such as its role in repression of gene transcription and its role in epigenetic marks in the genome. Dr. Oesterreich’s lab has also a strong interest in situ and invasive lobular disease, with a focus on estrogen and antiestrogen response. In her role as Director of Training in the Women's Cancer Research Center, she is interested in providing outstanding training opportunities to the next generation of women's cancer researchers.