Saima Hassan, MD, PhD, FRCSC
Fellow, Surgical Oncology
University of Toronto/Sunnybrook Research Institute
2013-2014 BCRF Project:
(The Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO 2013 Evelyn H. Lauder Endowed Young Investigator Award)
Although recent advances in treatments have helped improve the survival of breast cancer patients, the development of new therapies has been a challenging process. Only a small number of therapeutic agents tested in the laboratory have demonstrated efficacy in clinical trials. It would be ideal if laboratory (in‐vitro) models could better predict therapeutic efficacy in patients. Cancer cell lines, or immortalized cancer cells derived from patients, have commonly been used to model cancer subtypes and test therapeutic efficacy. However, the growth of cancer cells and their response to therapy has been shown to be influenced by proteins in their surrounding microenvironment. Therefore, Dr. Hassan proposes to determine the efficacy of a therapeutic agent in a recently developed model called a microenvironment microarray, a high‐throughput technology that can assess the influence of a panel of microenvironment proteins upon different cellular functions. This project will focus on a PARP inhibitor, a targeted therapeutic agent known to affect DNA damage and repair mechanisms. This agent has previously been demonstrated mixed results in clinical trials, and so there is still a need to identify which breast cancer patients will benefit from this agent. Currently, this inhibitor is also being tested in a clinical trial called the I SPY2 TRIAL (Investigation of Serial Studies to Predict Your Therapeutic Response with Imaging And moLecular Analysis) for breast cancer patients with locally advanced disease receiving treatment prior to surgery. This trial aims to improve treatment regimens for patient subsets on the basis of molecular characteristics. Therefore, Dr. Hassan’s overarching hypothesis is that prediction of therapeutic response to the PARP inhibitor in breast cancer patients can be modeled in the laboratory using the microenvironment microarray.
Dr. Hassan’s project tightly links the preclinical and clinical evaluation of PARP inhibition using a microenvironment model and patients from a clinical trial. Although the genomic predictors identified will need to be validated, this laboratory model shows great potential to select patient populations prior to administration of novel therapies in the future.
Born and raised in Montreal, Dr. Saima Hassan completed medical school and residency in general surgery at McGill University. During residency, she spent four years outside of clinical training to complete a doctorate in translational breast cancer research, also at McGill University. She discovered the first host‐derived blood marker predictive of distant metastasis in breast cancer: stromal cell‐derived factor (SDF)‐1. She also studied the dysfunctional relationship between the tumor and the host and its role as a prognostic marker. Furthermore, she performed chemosensitivity studies in transgenic mice, testing the efficacy of a CXCR4 antagonist in inhibiting primary tumor growth and distant metastasis.
Dr. Hassan won several awards during her doctoral studies including a Breast Cancer Achievement Award from the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Symposium, the Canadian Research Award for Specialty Residents from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and awards from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She then went to pursue a clinical fellowship in surgical oncology at the University of Toronto. Dr. Hassan will now embark on further research training under the supervision of Dr. Joe Gray at Oregon Health Sciences University to study the role of a recently developed technology that will incorporate the interactions between breast cancer cells and proteins in their microenvironment in order to identify genomic predictors of therapeutic response in the laboratory.