Professor of Pathology and Radiation Oncology
Co-Leader, Cancer Immunology Program
NYU School of Medicine
New York, New York
Harnessing the patient’s own immune system against his or her established cancer has proven to be a successful strategy at least in some patients. Within the last five years, several antibodies blocking critical “checkpoints” that control the activation of T cells, the immune cells able to kill cancer cells, have been approved for use in patients with melanoma and lung cancer. Until now less success has been achieved in breast cancer, probably because when most tumors are diagnosed, the tumor has already established a strong immunosuppressive microenvironment. Drs. Formenti and Demaria have achieved promising results by blocking multiple immune inhibitory targets in combination with radiation therapy in laboratory models. However, only a small proportion of the experimental tumors are completely eradicated. It has become evident that a broadly successful immunotherapy for breast cancer requires a concerted immunization strategy based on a combinatorial approach designed to overcome the existing immunosuppressive microenvironment of the breast tumor. Drs. Formenti and Demaria believe this strategy has the potential to unleash powerful anti-tumor responses and improve the outcome of metastatic breast cancer.The long-term goal of their BCRF research is to optimize the use of radiotherapy to “immunize” patients against their own breast cancer by understanding the mechanism of resistance and defining the best interventions to achieve success. They will test ways to specifically target the tumor site and avoid the serious side effects associated with systemic immune activation.
Sandra Demaria obtained her MD from the University of Turin, Italy, then moved to New York City for postdoctoral training in immunology followed by training in pathology at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine in the anatomic pathology/research residency track. After completing the residency Dr. Demaria remained on the faculty at NYU where she is currently Professor of Pathology and Radiation Oncology. She serves as co-leader of the Cancer Immunology program of NYU Cancer Institute, and is Scientific Director of the Immune Monitoring Core. She is also a member of the Breast Cancer program and an attending pathologist in the breast cancer service. She heads a laboratory studying innovative treatments for metastatic breast and other cancers. Her work is focused on understanding the mechanisms whereby local radiotherapy generates an in situ tumor vaccine, and exploiting this property of radiation to improve the response to immunotherapy. Studies from her lab have demonstrated that local radiotherapy is synergistic with different immunotherapies in pre-clinical breast cancer models. She has been working in partnership with Dr. Silvia Formenti for the past decade to develop a novel treatment paradigm exploiting the immune adjuvant effects of radiotherapy and translate the pre-clinical findings to the clinic. She holds leadership positions in national professional societies, including the Radiation Research Society, where she served as Council member from 2009-2012, and the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) where she currently serves as chair of the Council for Immunotherapy Education and Outreach and as board member.