Current Research and Scholarly Interests
Breast cancer poses a major health risk domestically and globally: in the US alone in 2014, over 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed, and approximately 40,000 women died of the disease. Surgery and radiotherapy are fundamental to most breast cancer patients since their goal is to remove tumors and eliminate residual tumor cells, respectively. However, the relapse rate for patients after treatment can be as high as 20%. Recent studies have shown that some tumor cells can be attracted to sites of surgical scars or near the margins of radiation. This phenomenon could cause local tumor re-growth and subsequent metastasis.
The microenvironmental factors and underlying mechanisms responsible for breast tumor recurrence following therapy are are not well established. Many studies focus solely on tumors and tumor cells but often ignore the contribution of the normal tissues that surround and interact with tumor cells to cause disease progression. I am characterizing the effects of surgery and radiation of normal tissues on tumor cell migration to determine whether they play a role in inducing breast cancer recurrence. My project includes three specific aims related to the response of tumors and their surroundings after treatment: 1) determining the effect of these therapies on attracting tumor cells, 2) understanding the role of the immune response on tumor recurrence, and 3) evaluating the influence of genetic and physical stiffness changes in the tumor microenvironment following therapy. The results of my research project could change the way breast cancer is treated in certain patients by providing crucial knowledge about recurrence following treatment.