Professor of Medicine
Department of Experimental Therapeutics
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Deaths from breast cancer are caused mainly by metastasis, the spread of the tumor to different parts of the body. The failure of metastatic breast cancer cells to respond to therapy, including targeted cancer therapy, is a major obstacle in treating metastatic breast cancer. Stimulation of the immune system could be an effective way to reduce or even eliminate metastasis-associated breast cancer deaths; however, a weak immune response in breast cancer hampers the use of immunotherapy to treat this disease. Dr. Fan’s team is developing a unique approach to redirect the body’s preexisting immunity, acquired through vaccination against influenza, toward breast cancer cells. This project is strategically innovative and explores a new direction in breast cancer research: combining targeted cancer therapy with immunotherapy. For their experimental prototype of this therapy, the researchers will package an influenza vaccine in a nano-particle that is targeted to the HER2 protein. In this way, they hope to stimulate an immune response to the vaccine that will enhance the natural immunity to destroy the cancer cells. In 2014-2015, Dr. Fan’s research team will continue their work in refining the nano-particle construction and testing it in laboratory models of breast cancer. Findings from the project are highly clinically translatable and if successful, this innovative approach may lead to a breakthrough in treatment and prevention of breast cancer metastasis or recurrence.
Zhen Fan was awarded his medical degree in 1985 from the Medical School of Shanghai Medical University, one of China’s most prestigious medical schools, and completed additional graduate studies there in 1988. His medical residency and oncology research training were at Zhong Shan Hospital of Shanghai Medical University. In 1991, he joined Dr. John Mendelsohn's laboratory as a post-doctoral research fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and focused on studies of targeting the epidermal growth factor receptor as an approach for cancer therapy. From 1994 to 1995, he was a Research Associate in the Program of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research; in 1996, he joined the Memorial Sloan Kettering faculty as an Assistant Molecular Biologist in the Department of Medicine. In late 1996, Dr. Fan moved to Houston and joined the faculty of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, starting as a tenure-track assistant professor. He is currently professor of medicine and cancer biology in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics in the Division of Cancer Medicine at MD Anderson, where he directs an independent laboratory focused on research for better understanding of cancer cell signaling and metabolism and for development of new technologies of antibody engineering and therapeutics. Dr. Fan has made considerable contributions to our understanding of regulation of cancer cell signaling in breast cancer, aimed at identifying novel targets for innovative breast cancer treatment. His research has been funded by multiple federal, state, and private sources.