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BCRF Grantee Since


Matthew J. Ellis, MD, PhD

Director of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center
Professor of Medicine and
Cellular and Molecular Biology
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, TX

Current Research

Dr. Ellis is involved in two BCRF projects focused on improving breast cancer outcomes. One study, conducted in collaboration with BCRF colleague, Norman Wolmark as part of The National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) is focused on developing standard practices for integrating cancer “omics” into the design of all neoadjuvant breast cancer trials.  Cancer- “omics” refers to the collective characterization of the genetic, biologic and metabolic makeup of a cancer, including DNA, RNA and protein components. As the field advances, it is critically important that clinical investigation evolves to match the demands and opportunities that integrated cancer “omics” present. Neoadjuvant clinical trials in which patients receive systemic treatment before surgery for breast cancer provide a valuable tissue resource to the “omics” field, as serial samples can be obtained before and after the initiation of therapy.

The NSABP is a clinical trials cooperative group chaired by Dr. Wolmark and supported through the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It has conducted over 50 years of clinical trials and enrolled over 110,000 women and men. In collaboration with several NCI Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium Centers, Drs. Ellis and Wolmark are conducting a deep proteo-genomic analysis of samples from a phase II randomized clinical trial evaluating neoadjuvant chemotherapy regimens in women with advanced HER2 negative breast cancer.  This trial has resulted in the award of an NCI Translational Science Center grant to Dr. Ellis, which will expand the research to include five cancer disease sites.

In a second collaboration, Drs.Ellis and Cynthia Ma are working to molecularly classify endocrine therapy resistant tumors so that new approaches can be developed to reduce the recurrence of this disease. Estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer in postmenopausal women is a major public health problem.  Although the majority of these cancers are treatable with anti-estrogen (endocrine) treatment and chemotherapy, up to 20% of patients will recur with metastatic disease (development of new tumors at distant sites). On the other hand, many patients would have been cured with endocrine treatment alone and could be spared the toxicities of chemotherapy. A major task is therefore to develop biomarkers that identify those breast cancers most likely to respond to anti-estrogen therapies vs. those that are resistant. 

BCRF has provided critical support for National Cancer Institute-sponsored Cooperative Group neoadjuvant trials in women with ER+ breast cancers. In addition to providing critically important information to guide the development of individualized treatment strategies and targeted therapies for this patient population, these  studies also generate a rich source of tumor material to investigate why some tumors are resistant to treatment. One such trial is the ALTERNATE trial, led by Drs. Ellis and Ma under the auspices of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, one of the NCI cooperative groups.  This Phase III neoadjuvant treatment trial is designed to validate and discover ways to predict tumor responsiveness to endocrine therapy and to uncover novel therapeutic targets for ER+ breast cancer. This research has the promise to change the clinical management of ER+ breast cancer and lead to more personalized treatments.


Originally from the United Kingdom, Matthew Ellis completed his medical training in the U.K. at the Universities of Cambridge and London.  After 11 years at Washington University in St Louis, Dr Ellis is the incoming Director of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center and Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Texas. His research interests include the identification of genes that affect responses and resistance to endocrine therapy in breast cancer Patients. Dr. Ellis is also co-principal investigator for the NCI-funded Proteome Characterization Center and co-project leader for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Breast Project.