Our research group is searching for ways to prevent metastatic breast cancer, which claims the lives of over 40,000 women and men in the United States each year. In particular, we study breast cancer as a systemic disease. We are working to understand how physiological and microenvironmental processes determine whether a breast cancer will progress and respond to treatment. We are undertaking a number of exciting projects in our laboratory:
1. Identifying the cells responsible for metastasis and therapeutic resistance. We recently developed a novel technology that allows us to trace individual cancer cells over long periods of time using experimental models of metastasis and treatment. We use this technology to distinguish dormant tumor cells from the cells that eventually form aggressively growing metastases and contribute to therapeutic resistance, which are responsible for nearly all cancer-related deaths.
2. Understanding how hematopoietic and immune cells regulate metastasis. Our early work taught us that immune cells are recruited to breast tumors and their metastases. These immune cells can govern whether a cancer will advance or be halted. Our lab was among the first to understand that the hematopoietic progenitors of these cells in the bone marrow are already primed to support metastasis even when a primary breast tumor is in early stages. By studying and understanding how these bone marrow cells are different between cancer patients and women without cancer, we may be able to modulate these immune cells, or the molecules that they secrete, as a way to target metastases.
3. Understanding systemic processes that regulate breast cancer progression and response to therapy. We are learning that various physiological processes and pharmacological treatments, such as aging, inflamation, primary breast cancers, chemotherapies, and targeted therapies, have a profound impact on tumor cells and the hematopoietic immune cells that regulate tumor growth. Our studies in this area are helping us to identify new therapies that eliminate breast cancers in our pre-clinical models.
Our ultimate goals in conducting these studies are to support development of new non-invasive tests that identify cancer patients who are likely to suffer from disease relapse and to develop new treatment therapies that can be given to those patients before their cancer returns.
We invite you to contact us if you wish to learn more about our research.
Sandra McAllister, PhD
Dr. McAllister received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and completed her Ph.D. studies in molecular and cellular biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She did her postdoctoral work in Dr. Robert Weinberg’s laboratory at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research where she established new pre-clinical models to study breast cancer pathophysiology. She joined the faculty of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2009, and is also an affiliate member of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, an associate member of the Broad Institute, and a member of the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. Dr. McAllister is an American Cancer Society Scholar, the 2013 recipient of the AACR Gertrude B. Elion Cancer Research Award, and an Era of Hope Award Scholar. In 2014, she received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Obama.