Breast cancer is a highly heterogeneous, complex disease affecting millions of women worldwide. While treatment advances are being made across targeted and immunotherapies, the preclinical research community still faces the challenge of finding more reliable, translatable models. These need to fully represent breast cancer metastatic and resistant characteristics to allow the study and development of new treatment options.
Patient-derived xenografts (PDX) have proven to be a more predictive preclinical model by better representing the human heterogeneity found in patient populations. Alana Welm PhD, and her team of researchers from the Huntsman Cancer Institute, have developed a collection of breast cancer PDX models. These models have been well characterized and are proven to be a reliable tool, beneficial to the advancement of novel therapies.
Dr. Welm completed her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX under the supervision of Gretchen Darlington, PhD. She then went on to conduct postdoctoral training in nobel laureate Dr. J. Michael Bishop’s laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco where her work focused on developing new models of breast cancer metastasis. Dr. Welm started her laboratory at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute in 2007, and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2013.
The research in Dr. Welm’s laboratory is focused on solving the problem of breast cancer metastasis using in vivo modeling of mouse and human breast cancers. Dr. Welm’s group discovered that the Ron kinase pathway is an important facilitator of breast cancer metastasis through its unique dual function in tumor cells and in resident macrophages. Current areas of research include (1) preclinical studies of various Ron inhibitors for treatment and prevention of metastatic breast cancer; (2) preclinical and early clinical studies of the Ron/Met inhibitor BMS777607/ASLAN002 in bone metastatic cancers; (3) discovering molecular mechanisms by which Ron kinases promote metastasis through cell-autonomous and non cell-autonomous pathways; and (4) refining “precision medicine” for metastatic breast cancer using functional assays in patient-derived breast tumor grafts.