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Breast Cancer Research Program

The Breast Cancer Research Program has the overarching goal of addressing unmet clinical needs by translating basic science discoveries into practice-changing clinical research. The program also fosters new translational directions by catalyzing laboratory and population-based research that could positively impact reduction of mortality and health disparities, as well as improvement of optimal care in breast cancer. This "bedside to bench and back" approach is achieved through a strong cadre of researchers including laboratory, clinical and population-based investigators, as well as extensive scientific collaborations with multiple national and international institutions, as well as consortia and pharma. Ongoing basic and translational discoveries from the Breast Cancer Research Program and other programs provide a steady pipeline for novel interventional trials with innovative approaches. Through these research endeavors, the Breast Cancer Research Program also provides training opportunities for mentoring the next generation of breast cancer researchers.


The Breast Cancer Program has expertise in and leads clinical trials related to:

-Inhibition of phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K) as a strategy to abrogate antiestrogen resistance in HR+ breast cancer
-FGFR pathway as a strategy to abrogate CDK4/6 inhibition and antiestrogen resistance in HR+ breast cancer
-RSK2 as a regulator and therapeutic target for HR+ breast cancer
-CDK4/6 inhibitors, anti-tumor immunity and the pro-inflammatory secretome

-Refinement of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) molecular subtypes: Implications for neoadjuvant chemotherapy selection
-JAK2 amplification as a prognostic and predictive biomarker in TNBC
-Strategies to improve outcomes for TNBC patients integrating subtype-specific genomic and immune-based discoveries

-Targeting antigen presentation to improve immunotherapy responses in breast cancer
-Mutant spliceosomes as a predictor for immune checkpoint blockade therapies

-Image integration to breast cancer biology and clinical trials
-Evaluating non-invasive imaging technologies to predict anti-cancer drug action and treatment response

-Targeting the DNA damage response and resistance in breast cancer

-Identifying mechanisms of tumor dormancy in the bone marrow

-Breast cancer in blacks: impact on genomics, healthcare use and lifestyle on outcomes (BRIGHT)
-Southern Community Cohort Study (SCCS): Relationship between obesity and breast cancer
-Optimization of care delivery in breast cancer, focusing on novel methods for dissemination of new data and cutting-edge technologies, as well as implementation of recent guidelines and approved therapies for breast cancer

-Electronic health record (EHR) decision support for genetic testing to inform clinical management, including eligibility and enrollment on clinical trials
-Molecular tumor board to evaluate CLIA-grade reports for actionability and make recommendations based on current knowledge and available clinical trials
-Structural Biology Precision Medicine Working Group

-Ongoing basic and translational discoveries provide a steady pipeline for novel interventional trials with innovative approaches.
-Systematic liquid biopsy using cell-free DNA (cfDNA) and tissue repository protocol for all stages and types of breast cancer
-Extensive scientific collaborations with multiple national and international institutions, as well as consortia and pharma

- Unique genomic alterations that lead to inflammatory phenotypes
- New models of inflammatory Breast Cancer

Meet the Program Members

The Breast Cancer Research Program includes around 30 members from multiple basic science and clinical departments across Vanderbilt University and Medical Center. Justin M. Balko, Pharm.D., Ph.D., and Vandana G. Abramson, M.D., are co-leaders of the program.

Featured Publications

Program News

December 28, 2020

Pal named to cancer research national leadership posts

Tuya Pal, MD, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and associate director for Cancer Health Disparities at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, has been named to two cancer research leadership posts.
October 21, 2020

Park named director of Hematology and Oncology at VICC

After serving as interim director since Jan. 1, Ben Ho Park, MD, PhD, Donna S. Hall Professor of Breast Cancer Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has been named director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology.
November 12, 2020

New therapeutic target for lung cancer

Continuous activation of cell surface receptors increases signaling that can promote oncogenic transformation. One receptor, EphA2, has been identified as a driver of lung cancer, but its interacting partners are not well characterized.