Assistant Professor, Cell Biology and Oncology
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
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. To accomplish this challenging goal they have developed novel laboratory assays that mimic specific steps in the metastatic process and then use advanced molecular techniques to identify which molecules are required for a cancer cell to accomplish each step. They are currently studying the early steps in metastasis: invasion and dissemination. Invasion refers to the movement of cancer cells outside of their normal environment, and dissemination refers to the escape of cancer cells out of the tumor and into normal tissues. To study these processes in the laboratory they grow pieces of tumor, referred to as "organoids", in three dimensional (3D) protein gels that mimic the environment of the tumor (for invasion) or of normal issue (for dissemination). Several articles describing the cellular changes they observed in the invasion and dissemination assays were recently published in high impact scientific journals. In the coming year Dr. Ewald and his team will determine which genes are activated during breast cancer invasion and dissemination, information which is necessary for the development of anti-metastatic cancer drugs. Ultimately, they will partner with BCRF-funded clinicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital to test the new drugs in clinical trials.
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 assistant 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.