Titles and Affiliations
Director, Department of Cell Biology
Professor of Cell Biology
Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Professor of Oncology and Co-Director, Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Program
Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Areas of Focus
- Tumor Biology
Understanding how breast cancer spreads and to identify preventive strategies to improve patient outcomes.
The major cause of breast cancer deaths is metastasis, the process by which breast cancer cells invade distant organs and establish new tumors there. 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). His findings may guide the development of new strategies to improve outcomes for women with MBC.
Progress Thus Far
Metastasis requires cancer cells to accomplish many different tasks: escaping the primary tumor, entering, and surviving within blood vessels, evading immune cells, and growing in an unfamiliar organ. Dr. Ewald’s research has shown that breast cancer cells typically accomplish these tasks as small groups of cells that are connected to each other by molecular “junctions” and found that the adhesive protein E-cadherin is required to form these junctions and for metastasis. In the past year, Dr. Ewald has further shown that tight junctions between cells prevent cancer invasion and spread, that their loss increases metastatic efficiency, and that E-cadherin plays a critical role in tumor cell survival that is independent of its role in cell adhesion.
In the coming year, Dr. Ewald will further explore whether tight junctions are a critical defense against metastasis, which would support the clinical observation that breast tumors with low expression of tight junction proteins are more aggressive. In addition, Dr. Ewald will use genetic techniques to determine which protein binding partners of E-cadherin are essential to its role in cancer cell survival.
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.
Dr. Ewald founded the Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Research Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, which brings together 40 faculty from 15 departments to understand how metastasis works and bring these insights to patient benefit. In 2021, he was appointed director of the Department of Cell Biology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. His department has historic strengths in imaging, cell migration, lipid trafficking, and cancer cell biology. Leadership of these two units enables him to bring together basic scientists, engineers, and clinicians and to apply cutting edge technologies and multidisciplinary perspectives to solve problems in breast cancer.