Valerie Weaver, PhD
San Francisco, California
Professor & Director, Center for Bioengineering and Tissue Regeneration
University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, California
Identifying and targeting drivers of breast cancer metastasis, recurrence, and resistance.
Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC) show a high propensity for metastasis, and patients succumb to their disease when their cancers don't respond to therapy, particularly if they have brain metastasis. Newer immunotherapies are successful in some TNBC patients, but many do not benefit. Dr. Weaver and her team use laboratory models, including patient-derived experimental models, to study the role of SMRT a protein that can regulate the immune response, drug resistance, and metastasis in TNBC. The studies may inform future clinical trials and increase treatment options for patients with TNBC.
Dr. Weaver’s team initially found that tumors containing SMRT have worse prognosis. They confirmed that human breast tumors with high levels of SMRT are resistant to conventional therapy and immunotherapies. In laboratory studies, the team found that blocking SMRT sensitized tumor cells to chemotherapy. Interestingly, they also determined that SMRT may be involved in blocking the effectiveness of immunotherapies.
The team hypothesizes that SMRT promotes metastasis and drug resistance in breast cancer by preventing anti-tumor immunity. They will examine whether SMRT inhibits anti-tumor immunity and investigate if a therapy that inactivates it restores anti-tumor immunity. They will also explore how it might contribute to brain metastasis.
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.
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