Associate Professor, Cell Biology and Oncology
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Areas of Focus: Metastasis, Tumor Biology
Goal: To understand how breast cancer spreads and to identify preventive strategies to improve patient outcomes.
Impact: Dr. Ewald is studying how breast cancer cells spread through the body to form new tumors in the lungs, brain, liver, and bones. This process, called metastasis, is the major cause of cancer deaths. His findings may guide the development of new strategies to improve outcomes for women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
What’s next: He and his colleagues will continue to examine how different cell types promote or inhibit metastasis and aim to identify targets within breast cancer cells that allow them to form new tumors at distant sites.
Metastatic breast cancer (MBC) is cancer that has spread from the breast to other parts of the body. While treatable, it is currently incurable. Dr. Ewald employs sophisticated laboratory technologies to study breast cancer cells and understand the steps involved that allow them travel through the body and colonized new sites. His goal is to discover ways to prevent metastasis from occurring and to identify new molecular targets to improve outcomes for patients with MBC.
Full Research Summary
FULL RESEARCH SUMMARY
Research area: Seeking to understand the biology of breast cancer metastasis in order to develop new therapies for breast cancer patients.
Impact: The major cause of breast cancer deaths is metastasis, the process by which breast cancer cells invade distant organs and establish new tumors there. In order to prevent this process from occurring, researchers must first identify the mechanisms that drive it. Dr. Ewald is studying metastasis at the cellular and molecular level with the goal of discovering ways to both prevent and treat metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
Current investigation: With the support of BCRF, Dr. Ewald’s laboratory has been developing an innovative set of experimental tools that allows him to study metastasis in real time.
What he’s learned so far: During the last year, Dr. Ewald’s lab has made three revealing discoveries about early phases of metastasis. They’ve learned that:
Breast cancer cells adhere to each other as they travel through the body, and that disrupting this “stickiness” could make it difficult for cells to travel to distant sites and prevent metastasis.
Myoepithelial cells – the cells that form that outer layer of the breast ducts – serve as natural barriers to tumor cell invasion by literally squeezing tumor cells back into the tumor.
Breast tumors can rapidly invade into blood vessel walls and then persistently release cancer cells into the circulation.
What’s next: Dr. Ewald will continue to leverage his collaborations with biologists, engineers, and clinicians to further deepen the understanding of how different cell types within the body promote or inhibit metastasis and to identify the key targetable molecules within breast cancer cells that allow them to form new metastases.
Andrew J. Ewald earned his BS in physics from Haverford College and his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biophysics from the California Institute of Technology. He is a professor in the Departments of Cell Biology, Oncology, and Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His laboratory has pioneered the use of 3D culture techniques to study the growth and invasion of breast cancer cells.
Dr. Ewald’s goal is to identify the molecules driving metastatic spread to enable the development of targeted therapies. His laboratory includes basic science and medical trainees and he collaborates with both engineers and clinicians. BCRF funding is critical to his current efforts to develop strategies to identify the patients at highest risk of metastatic recurrence and to develop innovative therapies to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer.