Associate Professor, Cell Biology and Oncology
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
If a tumor remains confined within the breast and can be completely removed during surgery, the patient will generally do very well. Breast cancer is most dangerous for patients when it has spread to distant organs, a process referred to as metastasis. This process requires breast epithelial cells to release their connections to their neighbors, migrate through local tissues, travel through the blood stream, and then establish new tumors in distant organs. Dr. Ewald and his team believe that understanding how a cancer cell learns to accomplish these diverse tasks will lead to new ways to stop it. The goal of their BCRF research is to develop novel strategies to either control or eliminate cancer cells wherever they reside in the body, thereby improving outcomes for women with metastatic breast cancer. His laboratory recently discovered that breast cancer invasion requires specialized “invasive leader cells”and that the gene expression profiles of the leader cells are similar across different subtypes of breast cancer, suggesting a common biology underlying the metastatic process. From their early findings, they believe that the typical metastatic “seed” contains 3-10 cancer cells and that cancer cells can establish mini-tumors (100s-1000s of cells) at the edge of blood vessels. These mini-tumors appear capable of serving as a permanent source of new metastasizing units. The researchers suggests a new conceptual model for metastasis, in which the cancer cells travel in groups and take advantage of their normal epithelial gene expression to establish tumors in distant organs. The ultimate goal of this project is to identify the biological mechanisms that drive tumor cells to spread, and to identify weaknesses that can be targeted to disrupt the metastatic process.
Andrew J. Ewald earned his BS in physics from Haverford College and his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biophysics from the California Institute of Technology. He is currently an associate professor in the Departments of Cell Biology and Oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His laboratory has pioneered the use of 3D culture techniques to study the growth and invasion of breast cancer cells.
Dr. Ewald's goal is to identify the molecules driving metastatic spread to enable the development of targeted therapies. His laboratory includes basic science and medical trainees and he collaborates with both engineers and clinicians. BCRF funding is critical to his current efforts to develop strategies to identify the patients at highest risk of metastatic recurrence and to develop innovative therapies to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer.