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Steffi Oesterreich, PhD

University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Titles and Affiliations

Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology
Director of Education, Women’s Cancer Research Center
Magee Women’s Research Institute
University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute

Research area

Understanding the biology of invasive lobular carcinoma, a common but understudied form of breast cancer.


Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) is a type of invasive breast cancer that originates in the milk-producing glands of the breast called lobules and accounts for 10 to 15 percent of diagnoses. The key difference between ILC and invasive ductal cancer (IDC), is that ILC does not express E-cadherin, a protein that is present on the surface of cells and mediates attachment to other tumor cells. How this molecular hallmark of ILC drives disease function is still an open research question.

Progress Thus Far

The team has developed a fascinating new laboratory model that attempts to overexpress E-cadherin in ILC in an attempt to “switch” an ILC tumor into an IDC tumor. In doing so, the team aims to identify characteristics in ILC that are driven by changes other than E-cadherin levels. Preliminary results indicate that overexpression of E-cadherin in ILC alone is not sufficient to “switch” subtype, implying that the precursor cells for IDC and ILC may be different.

What’s next

In the coming year, the team will continue to deepen their understanding of the role of E-cadherin by conducting molecular analyses of current and new models of ILC and expanding their study into metastatic cancer. They will also begin to address the possibility of IDC and ILC originating from different breast cells by studying non-genetic molecular differences. The main goal is to identify what differentiates ILC from IDC and to design ILC-specific therapies.


The main interest of Dr. Oesterreich’s research is to further our understanding of hormone action in women’s cancer 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 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. Her lab also has 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.

BCRF Investigator Since


Areas of Focus

Tumor Biology