Sofia D. Merajver, MD, PhD
Director, University of Michigan Center for Global Health
Professor of Internal Medicine
Scientific Director, Breast Oncology Program
Director, Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program
University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center
Ann Arbor, Michigan
2013-2014 BCRF Project:
(The Delta Air Lines Award)
Aggressive breast cancers are a major threat worldwide and cause a disproportionate number of deaths and great suffering in the US and in the most impoverished areas of the world. By increasing understanding of the key molecular mechanisms responsible for the spread of these cancer cells to multiple organs, researchers will be able to combine novel therapies that target the sequential steps of metastases development. In Dr. Merajver’s laboratory, scientists have gained a novel understanding of how signaling pathways interact with each other and how are the effects of new therapies propagated inside the cell. This knowledge coupled with their studies of cell motility will help the team develop a rational and effective therapy or combination therapies against breast cancer metastases.
Stopping very aggressive breast cancers such as inflammatory breast cancer, subsets of triple negative breast cancer, and other rapidly progressive breast cancers requires knowledge of their "wiring" of networks that disperse information throughout the cancer cell. By studying these networks, Dr. Merajver’s team has devised potential new avenues to attack aggressive cancer cells when they are moving, by interfering with proteins that regulate cell motility. Moreover, the researchers are designing and testing simple synthetic devices that simulate human organs to test small aggressive cancers for their potential to spread to distant sites before they ever do. In this manner, they hope to be able to guide therapies that prevent metastases from occurring.
Dr. Merajver was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She began her graduate studies in physics at the University of Buenos Aires but continued at the University of Maryland after she emigrated to the US, due to the difficult political situation in Argentina in the early 1970s.
Dr. Merajver received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and a master's and a doctoral degree in physics from the University of Maryland. Her doctoral dissertation dealt with the fluidity of lipid membranes in cells. Her postdoctoral project at the Naval Research Laboratory focused on laser spectroscopy of biomembranes. This work helped cement her love and passion for biology and resolve to eventually pursue a career in biomedical research. After heading her own well-funded laboratory in physics for a few years, Dr. Merajver decided to return to school at the University of Michigan where she pursued her medical career.
Dr. Merajver is a board certified medical oncologist and she is presently scientific director of the Breast Oncology Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMCCC). She also directs the UMCCC Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program. She is a physician scientist specializing in aggressive breast cancer phenotypes and in the molecular basis for metastasis and angiogenesis. All of her research ideas emanate from her clinical experience, so she considers herself extremely privileged to both see patients and direct a basic science laboratory where, together with many collaborators, investigators are developing novel therapies for breast cancer.
Dr. Merajver recently served as Director of the University of Michigan Center for Global Health, an effort to help build new projects in chronic disease with an emphasis on cancer throughout the developing world. Her widely collaborative work in global cancer health has helped decrease the proportion of women diagnosed with advanced cancer in North Africa and has helped understand the molecular bases of aggressive breast cancers in Africa.