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Valerie Weaver, PhD
Professor & Director, Center for Bioengineering and Tissue Regeneration
Co-Director Bay Area Center for Physical Sciences and Oncology
University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, California
Goal: To identify new strategies to prevent drug resistance and breast cancer metastasis.
Impact: Dr. Weaver and her team have discovered that a protein called SMRT promotes breast cancer metastasis and regulates breast tumor treatment resistance. In addition, they found that a novel therapy they developed, DECoR, can shrink breast tumors and may be able to prevent metastasis; it can also enhance the response of breast tumors to chemotherapy and immune checkpoint treatment. It’s possible that DECoR could comprise a powerful anti-metastasis and treatment-enhancing therapy.
What’s next: The team plans to confirm and expand their findings that tumors with high SMRT are more aggressive, metastatic, and treatment-resistant because SMRT represses the anti-tumor immune response, which will pave the way for future clinical studies of this protein and DECoR.
Drug resistance is the leading cause of breast cancer metastasis, and it’s a challenge that doctors face in treating every type of breast cancer. Dr. Weaver has discovered a protein called SMRT that is highly expressed in some triple negative breast cancers (TNBCs), which are more likely to spread than other types of the disease. She and her team are now studying the effectiveness of a drug they developed, DECoR, that represses SMRT activity and could improve outcomes for women with TNBC.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Developing strategies to prevent and overcome drug resistance and breast cancer recurrence.
Impact: Triple negative breast cancers (TNBC) are aggressive and are more likely to metastasize, and patients frequently die because their cancer no longer responds to therapy. Dr. Weaver is working on a promising new anti-metastasis and treatment-enhancing therapy (DECoR) that could reduce the mortality of breast cancer patients with metastatic disease.
Current investigation: She and her team are studying a protein they discovered called SMRT that bioinformatics analysis suggests predicts for poor patient prognosis. It is highly expressed in some TNBCs.
What she’s learned so far: Dr. Weaver has shown that SMRT promotes breast tumor aggression, supports metastasis, and drives treatment resistance of breast tumors because it represses the ability of the immune system to shrink tumors.
What’s next: The team will clarify how SMRT regulates the immune response in breast tumors and determine if DECoR therapy, which interferes with SMRT activity, can prevent metastasis. Earlier laboratory studies have shown strong tumor shrinkage without side effects, suggesting that DECoR may have clinical potential.
Dr. Weaver is currently the Director of the Center for Bioengineering and Tissue Regeneration in the Department of Surgery, and is a Professor in the Departments of Surgery, Radiation Oncology and Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at UCSF in San Francisco, CA.
Dr. Weaver has over 20 years of experience in leading interdisciplinary research in oncology, including leadership of significant program projects including the Bay Area Physical Sciences and Oncology program and the UCSF Tumor Microenvironment Brain Program that merge approaches in the physical/engineering sciences with cancer cell biology and emphasize the role of the tumor microenvironment. Her research program focuses on the contribution of force, cell-intrinsic as well as extracellular matrix, to breast, pancreatic and glioblastoma tumor development and treatment. She also has an active research program exploring the interplay between cell and tissue level force and human embryonic stem cell differentiation.
Her education took place in Canada, with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Waterloo, an Honors Bachelor’s and PhD degree in Biochemistry from the University of Ottawa with a two-year postdoctoral training at the Institute for Biological Sciences, National Research Council of Canada and a 5-year postdoctoral tenure in Cancer Cell Biology at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at UC Berkeley with Dr. Mina J Bissell.
Dr. Weaver was recruited to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where she joined the faculty in the Department of Pathology as an Assistant Professor and was appointed a full member of the Institute for Medicine and Engineering. In mid-2006 she relocated to UCSF in San Francisco as an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery with a joint appointment in Anatomy to take on the Directorship of the Center for Bioengineering & Tissue regeneration. She was invited to join the UCSF Cancer Center and Stem Cell Programs in 2007 and was cross appointed to the newly formed Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences in 2008 and was promoted to full Professor in 2010.
Dr. Weaver has been recognized for her research and leadership through receipt of several awards including the DOD BCRP Scholar award in 2005 and the DOD BCRP Scholar expansion award in 20013 for exceptional creativity in breast cancer research and the ASCB WICB Midcareer award for sustained excellence in cell biology research in 2014. Most recently she was elected as the chair of the AACR TMEN working group in 2015 and she was elected to be a fellow of the American Society for Cell Biology in 2017.