Breast Cancer Research Program

Sergej Djuranovic, PhD, works with Laura Arthur, PhD.


Every breakthrough in breast cancer treatment begins in the laboratory, where researchers study how the disease behaves and search for its weak spots. The Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP) at Siteman Cancer Center seeks to understand the basic mechanisms that regulate breast cancer pathology, and to use this information to better prevent, diagnose, and treat all stages and subtypes of breast cancer.

Working groups in clinical, basic and population sciences have been established to identify and develop novel strategies to improve the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. These groups work in collaboration, guided by the hypothesis that advances in basic and population science can directly benefit breast cancer patients in the clinic.

The members and leadership of the BCRP are committed to a vision that unites basic science discoveries in breast cancer genomics to functional studies that include new drug targets and other therapeutic modalities. We aim for clinical/translational implementation that improves breast cancer outcomes and impacts disease prevention.

Our newer clinical trials exemplify this paradigm, including phase 1 therapeutic trials and the TNBC personalized vaccine trial. Moving forward, we will strive to uncover novel molecular networks that drive breast cancer progression and metastasis.

As a community, we work to assist the many junior faculty members affiliated with our program. Through targeted mentoring, BCRP leadership aims to promote the pairing of basic science researchers with physicians (oncology, radiology, etc.) in order to bridge the scientific gap between discovery and clinical intervention. Leadership has also provided significant resources to junior faculty members in their pursuit of external funding. This approach has been highly successful, as we have had numerous junior faculty members receive their first large national external grants.

Program Co-Leaders

Facts and Figures

  • Members of the BCRP have 101 projects, totaling $8.79 million in costs.
  • BCRP researchers have brought in $2.33 million in funding from the NCI and $1.97 from other, peer reviewed sources.
  • Members contributed to 98 publications in 2018.
  • 913 patients were accrued to BCRP clinical trials in 2017.


We are grateful to those who support our research. Click here to make a donation, and please specify that you would like your gift to go to the BCRP.

Scientific Research

Members of the BCRP have numerous studies in review or nearly accepted for publication that will continue our record of accomplishment around the basic-functional-translational paradigm in breast cancer. These studies include the identification of innate immune signaling pathways in TNBC, our emergent patient-derived breast cancer xenografts, and the discovery of microenvironment factors that aid metastasis.

Recent publications

Clinical Trials

Fueled by laboratory research and discovery, the growing basic knowledge of the BCRP provides the impetus for new, investigator-initiated clinical trials. We plan to continue our focus on immunotherapeutic approaches to breast cancer care, building upon the success of and lessons learned from the TNBC vaccine clinical trial.

A Randomized Phase 1 Trial of Neoantigen DNA Vaccine Alone vs. Neoantigen Vaccine Plus Durvalumab in Triple Negative Breast Cancer Patients Following Standard of Care Therapy

  • PI: William Gillanders
  • This trial will evaluate the safety of neoantigen DNA vaccines, given with or without durvalumab, as a treatment for triple negative breast cancer. The patients will begin receiving the vaccines within 90 days of completing standard of care treatment. Researchers will also track the efficacy of the vaccines by measuring patients’ immune responses.

Comparison of Operative to Monitoring And Endocrine Therapy (COMET) Trial for Low Risk DCIS: A Phase III Prospective Randomized Trial

  • PI: Rebecca Aft
  • This study aims to reduce the overdiagnosis and overtreatment of breast cancer by exploring whether low risk patients can be cared for successfully using active surveillance. Investigators will compare the number of patients who develop ipsilateral invasive cancer following either active surveillance or guideline concordant care.

Palbociclib after CDK and Endocrine Therapy (PACE): A Randomized Phase II Study of Fulvestrant, Palbociclib, and Avelumab for Endocrine Pre-treated ER+/HER2- Metastatic Breast Cancer

  • PI: Cynthia Ma
  • This trial is seeking a new therapy for metastatic breast cancer patients who are no longer responding to palboclib and endocrine therapy. Investigators are examining fulvestrant, fulvestrant combined with palbociclib, and fulvestrant with palbociclib and avelumab.

Evaluation of Three Fraction Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation as the Sole Method of Radiation Therapy for Low-risk Stage 0 and I Breast Carcinoma

  • PI: Imran Zoberi
  • This trial will investigate the tolerability and efficacy of three fraction accelerated partial breast irradiation for breast cancer patients at stages 0 and 1. The goal is to create a superior partial breast irradiation protocol for low-risk patients that could be delivered through standard equipment available in many radiation oncology facilities.



Margenthaler to lead American Society of Breast Surgeons

Julie Margenthaler, MD, was recently appointed president-elect of The American Society of Breast Surgeons. Margenthaler, a member of the BCRP, currently serves as the Society’s treasurer. She will begin her term as president in 2020.

Gillanders’ research contributes to immunotherapy initiatives

A recent article about immunotherapy research at the Washington University School of Medicine profiled the work of BCRP member William E. Gillanders, MD. Gillanders is currently investigating neoantigen vaccines as a potential therapy for triple negative breast cancer.

NIH’s Human Tumor Atlas Network supports BCRP projects

BCRP member William Gillanders will serve as a PI under a new grant awarded to the Washington University School of Medicine by the NIH’s Human Tumor Atlas Network. The Network seeks to unite research institutions in the study of the tumor life cycle. Funds from the grant will support Gillanders’ research into breast cancer immunotherapies, including breast cancer vaccines.

BCRP recognized with SIP grant

The Siteman Investman Program has awarded funds to a project sponsored in part by BCRP members Rebecca Aft and Leonel Hernandez-Aya. Their project will investigate how disseminated tumor cells can lead to metastasis in at-risk breast cancer patients and test a new therapy aimed eliminating these cells.

New research uncovers the role of DNA mutations in breast cancer relapse

In a multi-institutional study published in Nature Communications, BCRP researchers identified genetic mutations that indicate either a higher or lower risk of relapse in patients with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. This finding could help physicians develop targeted therapies that take relapse risk into account. The project was led by BCRP member Obi L. Griffiths, PhD, with Jingqin (Rosy) Luo serving as a contributor.

WUSM receives $5 million grant for breast cancer research

The Department of Defense has awarded the Washington University School of Medicine a $5 million grant to support research into new treatments for HER2-positive breast cancer. As part of this research, BCRP members Ron Bose, MD, PhD and Cynthia Ma, MD, PhD will serve as co-principal investigators on a clinical trial for neratinib, an HER2 blocker that may help patients with metastatic cancer.