UAB physician-scientist receives Komen grant to conduct HER2-positive breast cancer research

Erica Stringer-Reasor, M.D., assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham  Division of Hematology and Oncology has been awarded a $450,000 grant from Susan G. Komen to support a clinical trial investigating PARP inhibitors for the treatment for HER2-positive breast cancer.

HER2-positive breast cancer is a cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 or HER2, which promotes the growth of cancer cells. In about one of every five breast cancers, the cancer cells have a gene alteration that makes an excess of the HER2 protein. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other breast cancers.

PARP is an enzyme in cells that helps repair DNA when it has become damaged, as in the case with cancer. PARP inhibitors work by keeping cancer cells from repairing themselves once they have been damaged by chemotherapy, while sparing healthy cells.

At UAB, Eddy Yang, M.D., Ph.D., professor and vice chair of Translational Research in the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology, discovered that PARP inhibitors may be particularly effective in HER2-positive breast cancer that has become resistant to anti-HER2 therapies.

“However, medications are still being tested in clinical trials, and are not yet FDA-approved for use outside of clinical research,” said Andres Forero, M.D., professor in the UAB Division of Hematology and Oncology, and head of the breast cancer research program.

Stringer-Reasor who is an associate scientist in the Experimental Therapeutics program at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, will investigate the combination of PARP inhibitors with HER2-positive targeted therapies, which could improve patient survival.

“There is some evidence that different PARP inhibitors work differently, so not all may have similar results in clinical trials,” said Forero, a senior scientist at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We are conducting the next level of research using combination therapies to get better outcomes and move the needle forward.”