As a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. David Cheresh’s laboratory at UCSD I pursued my interest in integrin signaling in cancer, leading to discovery of a surprising adhesion-independent role for the integrin αvβ3 that promoted tumor cell metastasis, published in Nature Medicine. This finding initiated my interest in adult stem cell biology and its relevance to cancer, now a major topic of my research as an independent investigator. In 2014 I was promoted to Assistant Professor in the UCSD Department of Pathology.
Our laboratory is focused on discovering more effective ways of preventing breast cancer recurrence and metastasis, leading to a reduction in mortality from this disease. Cancer stem cells (CSCs), also known as tumor-initiating cells, are an aggressive sub-population of tumor cells that promote drug resistance, recurrence and metastasis in a diverse array of epithelial cancers and are therefore promising targets for therapy. Since normal physiological pathways are often hijacked by cancer cells, we examine the developmental signals that control stem cell behavior in the mammary gland with the goal of identifying new strategies to target CSCs in breast cancers.
Our prior studies showed that the integrin αvβ3 drives a signaling pathway required for both normal mammary stem cell activation during pregnancy and CSC properties in breast cancers (Developmental Cell). We now show in The Journal of Clinical Investigation that integrin αvβ3 labels a unique stem-like CSC population in all major clinical subtypes that we will further explore for specific vulnerabilities. This work may lead to new subtype agnostic therapies to combat aggressive breast cancers in patients.