In honor of Women’s History Month, March 2017, we profiled several trailblazing PCF-funded female prostate cancer researchers who are working to find the cure and impact the lives of patients.  Read below to learn more about what inspires these amazing women and what they are doing for patients and the field of prostate cancer research.



Himisha Beltran, MD
Assistant Professor, Medicine/Hematology and Medical Oncology, Weill Cornell Medicine

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. Prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer in men and a leading cause of cancer death. The disease affects everyone –-both men and women. I find it rewarding to care for aging men and am motivated to improve the lives of these patients and their families.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. I am inspired by people that are not afraid to take risks and are passionate about their work, life, and values. In science, those that think outside the box and are persistent often make the most significant contributions.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. My research is focused on understanding mechanisms of treatment resistance in advanced prostate cancer through integration of clinical and molecular features of patients combined with preclinical modeling. With both a lab based and clinical background, I have been able to translate this research directly to patients and develop clinical trials testing novel therapies.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. Something that is important for many working mothers is to develop a unique ability to multitask– work anywhere, sleep any time, and be everywhere at once! To be able to have a focus and disciplined intellect balanced by a loving and giving nature. At this point in my life, I am proud of my ability to channel my energy where it is needed most and I think it helps me to become more successful at work and at home.

Dr. Beltran is the recipient of numerous PCF Awards including a 2010 LeFrak Family – PCF Young Investigator Award on “Defining a neuroendocrine (NEPC) transcriptome signature to develop targeted therapies and predict progression from adenocarcinoma to NEPC’” a 2014 PCF Challenge Award on “Early Detection of Neuroendocrine Prostate Cancer Transformation Using Circulating Genomic Signatures,” and a 2016 Movember Foundation – PCF Challenge Award on “Development and qualification of the PCF SELECT (Specific Evaluation in Liquid biopsies of Established prostate Cancer Targets) plasma DNA assay.”



Dr. Charlotte Bevan, PhD
Professor of Cancer Biology
Non-Clinical Head of Prostate Cancer Research, Department of Surgery & Cancer
Imperial College London

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. It actually began with an interest in the action of hormones. My PhD concerned how dysregulation of testosterone signalling can cause developmental disorders – and it seemed natural to progress to how it’s dysregulation in the adult can promote cancer (and how we can use it to treat cancer).

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. Happily, I see inspiring people at every stage. The patients who have such a lot to bear but still participate willingly in trials and research. The clinicians who somehow find the time to both treat patients and do great research. Investigators, students and postdocs with enormous enthusiasm and vision. And the great work of the fundraisers and publicists who really galvanise people and make them care.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. I study how hormones can both promote the disease and can be manipulated to treat it. I also study the role of microRNAs in the disease and how we can use these to keep us informed about its prognosis and progress.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. I nearly became a nuclear physicist! It was in the final year of university that I made the switch to genetics and molecular biology. I think that has fuelled my interest in multidisciplinary work and I’m currently collaborating with bioengineers and chemists.

Dr. Bevan is the mentor of 2015 WorldQuant Foundation-PCF Young Investigator, Dr. Claire Fletcher.



Heather Cheng, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of Washington School of Medicine
Assistant Member, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Director, SCCA Prostate Cancer Genetics Clinic

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. Prostate cancer is the cancer that has affected my own family the most, so at a basic level, the disease is very personal. Also, because prostate cancer is so common, the potential impact of each innovation we make, however humble-seeming at first, has the power to benefit many men and their families.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. Patients and their families. My colleagues. The privilege of bringing exciting discoveries to patients.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. My research centers around the genetics of prostate cancer. Prostate cancer can have mistakes (mutations) in genes like BRCA2 which are important to know about because some treatments may be especially effective if these mistakes are found in the prostate cancer. About half the time these mutations are inherited and may lead to higher risk of cancer. I study what this means for patients and their family members. I launched the Prostate Cancer Genetics Clinic at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance/University of Washington as a place for patients and families to come for education and counseling about these topics, genetic testing (if appropriate), and to participate in cutting edge research. The goal is to reduce the impact of prostate cancer, including into the next generation.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. When I started my MD-PhD program, I was the only woman in a class of 10 and, at one point, was the only woman in 4 consecutive classes. We worked hard in the recruitment process and we had 50/50 in the next year and much better numbers in the classes that followed. Today, I count both women and men from that time among my closest friends.

Dr. Cheng is the recipient of a 2015 Kelsey Dickson – PCF Young Investigator Award on “Identifying High-Penetrance Prostate Cancer Risk Genes: Leveraging Families for Next Generation Discovery and Prevention” and is a co-investigator on three PCF Challenge Awards.



Claire Fletcher, PhD
Imperial College London, Post-Doctoral Research Associate and Movember Fellow

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. Incredible progress has been made over the past decade in diagnosing and treating prostate cancer. However, there are still many unanswered questions and therefore huge potential to impact the lives of patients, their partners and families. It is these gaps in our knowledge that drive my research. I also have a fantastic (female!) mentor in Prof Charlotte Bevan, who nurtured my curiosity and instilled in me the belief that I could make a difference.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. I am always amazed by the passion that patients display for research, and their selfless commitment to helping other men to survive prostate cancer. I’m also inspired by the ground-breaking work of other incredibly dedicated prostate cancer scientists and clinicians across the world, who fuel my desire to be a better scientist.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. My work focusses on working out why some men respond very well to a particular treatment, whilst others do not, what causes drug resistance at the molecular level, and on identifying new biomarkers of drug response. In particular, I investigate the many roles of tiny pieces of DNA-like material, called ‘microRNAs’ at the advanced stages of prostate cancer.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. In my spare time, I help to run a Girl Scout unit in London and try to use this role to enthuse and inspire the next-generation of world-leading female scientists!

Dr. Fletcher is the recipient of a 2015 WorldQuant Foundation – PCF Young Investigator Award on “Systematic Identification of MicroRNA Drivers of Resistance to Novel Therapeutics in Advanced Prostate Cancer – Exploitation as Stratification Biomarkers and Drug Targets”



Isla Garraway, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Urology, David Geffen UCLA School of Medicine

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. Because prostate cancer has impacted the life of my father, I don’t want it to impact the life of my brother or son.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. My family and my patients inspire me the most.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. I diagnose and treat patients with prostate cancer. I study prostate cancer tumor biology and tissue from patients with lethal disease.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. Not sure if this is unique, but I am a strong believer in teamwork; I would much prefer to accomplish great things as part of a team than as an individual.

Dr. Garraway is the recipient of several PCF Awards including a 2010 Winter Vinecki – PCF Young Investigator Award Sponsored by Lori Milken on “Defining the human prostate stem cell hierarchy and the role of specific stem cell subpopulations in prostate tumorigenesis using freshly isolated human tissue.”



Maha Hussain, MD, FACP, FASCO
Genevieve Teuton Professor of Medicine
Division of Hematology/Oncology
Senior Deputy Director & Associate Director for Clinical Research
Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. I am first and foremost a physician who chose oncology as a career focus to help patients and impact their outcomes. My passion for prostate cancer care began during my medicine residency and medical oncology fellowship training when I met the very ugly face of the disease; metastatic prostate cancer, which at the time had very poor overall survival and quality of life with limited treatment options.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. I am inspired by my patients and their families, the support and commitment of the advocacy community, the expanding brain trust who will be the future experts and leaders of the field, the tremendous progress to date and the hope for infinitely better “tomorrow”.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. I am a practicing oncologist and a clinical researcher. My research is focused on developing novel treatments and interventions to impact quality and quantity of life for patients with prostate cancer and enhance their survivorship. I continue to partner with translational, basic scientists and other clinical researchers institutionally and nationally to better inform the clinical research that I conduct.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. I tend to question the “conventional wisdom” and “status quo”. I take pride in being one of less than a handful of women medical GU oncologists who 27 + years ago had a primary focus on prostate cancer medical care and clinical research. My appointment in 1994 as chair for the Advanced Prostate Cancer subcommittee of SWOG where I served in that capacity for 18 years is an example of what women can do based on scientific and professional qualifications.

Dr. Hussain is the recipient of several PCF Awards, including a 2013 Movember-PCF Challenge Award on “Co-Targeting the Cell Cycle and Androgen Signaling Axis via CDK4/6 Inhibition: A Novel Paradigm for Treating Metastatic Hormone-Sensitive Prostate Cancer.”



Karen Knudsen, PhD
Director, NCI-Designated Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center
Chair and Hilary Koprowski Endowed Professor, Dept. of Cancer Biology
Professor, Depts of Cancer Biology, Urology, Radiation Oncology, and Medical Oncology
Thomas Jefferson University

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. My reason for working in prostate cancer is simple— I saw the unmet need, and believed that my line of research could make a difference in understanding and treating advanced disease. I also was fortunate to have a postdoctoral advisor that encouraged and supported my desire to focus in prostate cancer.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. Unquestionably, it’s the patients. Philadelphia has some of the highest prostate cancer incidence and mortality rates in the nation, and I am committed to reversing those numbers.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. My research is focused on understanding the molecular basis of progression to lethal prostate cancer, and to translating that knowledge into the clinic. My laboratory is poised not just for “bench to bedside” research, but to take recent clinical observations back into the laboratory so that we might better understand how to tailor therapy to individual patients.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. In the US, there are over 3400 cancer centers, of which only 69 that have received the prestigious status of “NCI-designation” from the National Cancer Institute. I have the privilege of serving as Director of one of these 69 elite centers— one of only 7 women Directors nationwide.

Dr. Knudsen has received numerous PCF Awards, including a 2012 Movember-PCF Challenge Award on “Interrogation of aberrant DNA repair in sporadic prostate cancer.”



Stacy Loeb, MD
Assistant Professor, Department of Urology
Assistant Professor, Department of Population Health
New York University and Manhattan VA

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. My grandfather died from prostate cancer while I was in medical school and that is what inspired me to dedicate my career to prostate cancer. I hope to help other prostate cancer patients and their families through my clinical practice and research.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. Patients have been a major inspiration for my research. The idea behind many of my projects arose from questions that patients asked me in clinic. It is very rewarding to study these clinically relevant questions, and then bring the results back to the clinic to inform our practice.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. My time is split between prostate cancer research and clinical practice as a urologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and the Manhattan VA. I currently have a PCF Young Investigator Award to study digital health in prostate cancer, an NIH grant to study active surveillance, and a NYS DOH grant to study prostate cancer management in veterans.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. I host the Men’s Health Show on Wednesdays from 6-8pET on SiriusXM 110 US/Canadian satellite radio- many of our callers are women and it’s a great way to promote public awareness of important men’s health issues such as prostate cancer. With respect to promoting women in our field, only 8% of practicing urologists are female so I started the #ILookLikeAUrologist social media campaign in 2015 as a spin-off of similar campaigns in other disciplines. This campaign has reached more than 3 million people and was awarded the Most Outstanding Contribution to Social Media in Urology by the British Journal of Urology International.

Dr. Loeb is the recipient of a 2016 Tom Murphy – PCF Young Investigator Award in honor of Alan Breed on “Prostate Cancer: Quantitative and qualitative evaluation of digital media and other communications to improve prostate cancer advocacy, research and management.”



Alicia Morgans, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. I am working in prostate cancer because I want to make sure that the men I love stop suffering from this disease. We have incredible potential to reduce suffering from this disease now, and make things better for survivors while new treatments to cure prostate cancer are being developed.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. I am inspired by my grandfather, an advanced prostate cancer survivor, who has managed to never let himself feel down about day to day struggles, always making each day the best it can be despite the challenges he faces.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. I study complications of advanced prostate cancer survivorship to identify better ways to prevent and treat the problems men face from their disease and its treatments. I also study treatment decision making strategies in advanced prostate cancer in an effort to empower men to use their voices to participate in and personalize their care.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. I have the most wonderfully supportive husband and boys who let me follow my professional dreams and are my biggest cheerleaders.

Dr Morgans is the recipient of a 2016 Durden Foundation – PCF Creativity Award on “Cognitive Effects of Androgen Receptor (AR) Directed Therapies for Advanced Prostate Cancer: Defining the Role of AR in the Central Nervous System.”



Lorelei Mucci, ScD, MPH
Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health
Head of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention, Department of Epidemiology, HSPH
Leader, Cancer Epidemiology Program at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. Men suffer considerable disparities in cancer. Men have higher incidence and mortality of cancer than women for 23 of 26 cancer types, yet the underlying reason for this excess burden is unknown. I am committed to men’s health more generally, and obviously in cancer, prostate cancer looms particularly large as a public health issue across the world. On a personal level, I have a 13 year old son, and I am working so that he and others in his generation do not have to suffer from prostate cancer.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. I am inspired by the desire to contribute positively to the world. Beyond being a mom, I want my life’s legacy to be around how I have impacted the world as a public health practitioner and prostate cancer researcher. I have drawn sources of inspiration from many people – Dimitrios Trichopoulos, who first introduced me to cancer epidemiology; Barack Obama for his life’s commitment to public service and the deep integrity with which he accomplished it; the many woman before me who have laid the groundwork and shown that one can be both a successful scientist and mother.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. I am a prostate cancer epidemiologist, and my research is trying to understand why men develop the disease, why some men’s prostate cancers progress, and to identify whether there are factors that could improve survival and quality of life in these patients. One study I am very excited about currently is IRONMAN, a new registry of 5,000 men with advanced prostate cancer we are recruiting from 8 countries. The goal is to understand the treatment patterns of men with advanced disease around the world, how treatment combinations influence survival and quality of life, and whether there are specific biological markers that can help to understand how men respond to the treatments.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. I was the first person in my family to attend graduate school, and the first woman in my family to complete a 4-year degree in university. My father instilled in me the importance of working hard, being passionate about the work I do, and I have found that in my career as a prostate cancer epidemiologist.

Dr. Mucci is the recipient of a 2008 Michael and Lori Milken – PCF Young Investigator Award titled “Do genetic and lifestyle factors affect prostate cancer survival via interactions with the TMPRSS2:ERG fusion?” and is a co-investigator and mentor on several other PCF Awards.



Karen Sfanos, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pathology, Oncology, and Urology
Johns Hopkins University

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. I credit my initial draw to the field to having a wonderful experience as a graduate student in the Department of Urology at Johns Hopkins under the incredible leadership of Pat Walsh and Don Coffey and with outstanding mentorship from Bill Isaacs and then Angelo De Marzo. The people I work with keep me intellectually curious and driven to study prostate cancer for sure. But, I’ve also never once considered that there’s any reason for me not to study prostate cancer as a woman. Prostate cancer can affect everyone surrounding loved ones who are diagnosed, and that includes mothers, wives, daughters, granddaughters, and friends.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. I am inspired by my trainees and by my hopes to be a role model to them. I am also deeply inspired by my Dad, who is a prostate cancer survivor.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. I study risk factors that we think may contribute to prostate cancer initiation or progression. This includes prostate infections and chronic inflammation. I also study the human-associated microbial communities (called the “microbiome”) and how they influence things like treatment response to prostate cancer therapies.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. I began my career as a marine biologist. You wouldn’t think that would ultimately lead me to a career as a prostate cancer researcher, but in truth I am using the same tools that I used to study marine microbial populations to now study human microbial populations in relation to prostate cancer.

Dr. Sfanos is the recipient of a 2012 Chris and Felicia Evensen – PCF Young Investigator Award on “Determining the Link Between Dietary Carcinogens, Pathogenic Bacteria and IL-6 Levels in Prostate Cancer Initiation and Progression,” and a 2016 Neil DeFeo – PCF Challenge Award on “The Microbiome and Metastatic, Lethal Prostate Cancer: Establishment of an International Resource for the Prostate Cancer Research Community.”



Mary-Ellen Taplin, MD
Associate Professor, Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Chair, Executive Committee for Clinical Research, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. I work in prostate cancer because too many men struggle with the diagnosis of prostate cancer, therapy, consequences of therapy and shortened life span as a result of prostate cancer. As a woman I am a natural caretaker and my opportunities in medical oncology have allowed me the privilege of providing care and comfort to men with prostate cancer and their families.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. I am inspired by my patients. I have been working in academic genitourinary oncology for 27 years and I continue to be amazed by the courage and determination of my prostate cancer patients. Despite the challenges of their disease most patients are working hard to support research to discover improved therapy while looking out for the benefit of their family members above their personal needs.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. My main focus in prostate cancer is clinical trials that involve new therapies or new combinations of therapy. My team develops clinical trials that include samples of prostate cancer tissues in order to determine why some patients are exceptional responders to specific therapy and why others develop resistance to therapy. We aim to apply therapeutics that are approved in advanced prostate cancer, to earlier stages in an attempt to cure more patients who are at risk for dying from prostate cancer.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. In 2017 I will be the first woman in genitourinary oncology at Dana-Farber to be promoted to Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Taplin is a recipient of numerous PCF Awards including a 2014 PCF Challenge Award on ‘Eradicating Lethal Micrometastic Prostate Cancer Through High Intensity Short Course AR Suppression.”



Jennifer Wu, PhD
Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Hollings Cancer Center, Medical University of South Carolina

Q. Why are you working in prostate cancer?
A. I love my father, husband, son, future grandson (if any), and friends.  And I love to see men aging with good health.

Q. Who/what inspires you?
A. Working with a great prostate cancer research/care group when I was at the University of Washington/ Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Q. What do you study / what do you do for patients?
A. I study novel immunotherapies for metastatic prostate cancer.

Q. What is one unique fact about you?
A. My research has led to a very promising immunotherapy for treating metastatic prostate cancer (including hormone-refractory metastatic prostate cancer).   The work was featured in SITC 2016 Annual Meeting Daily Highlight and the Charleston newspaper “Post and Courier”.   I have founded a start-up pharmaceutical company to expedite the therapy to clinical trials with the support of a NCI small business grant.

Dr. Wu is the recipient of a 2013 A. David Mazzone-PCF Challenge Award on “Synergistic Immune and Lipid Metabolism Targeting for Metastatic Prostate Cancer Therapy.”


Terms to know from this article:

Progression

Increase in the size of a tumor or spread of cancer in the body.

Testosterone

A hormone that promotes the development and maintenance of male sex characteristics.

Prognosis

The likely outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery or recurrence.

Oncologist

A doctor who specializes in treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation.

androgen

A type of hormone that promotes the development and maintenance of male sex characteristics.

Hormone

A chemical made by glands in the body. Hormones circulate in the bloodstream and control the actions of certain cells or organs. Some hormones can also be made in a laboratory.

urologist

A doctor who has special training in diagnosing and treating diseases of the urinary organs in females and the urinary and reproductive organs in males.

Active Surveillance

Active surveillance is an option offered to patients with very low-risk prostate cancer (low grade, low stage, localized disease). Patients are monitored carefully over time for signs of disease progression. A PSA blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE) and prostate biopsy are performed at physician-specified intervals. Signs of disease progression will trigger immediate active treatment.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that boosts or restores the immune system to fight cancer, infections and other diseases. There a several different agents used for immunotherapy; Provenge is one example.

Refractory

In medicine, describes a disease or condition that does not respond to treatment.

Tumor

A mass of excess tissue that results from abnormal cell division. Tumors perform no useful body function. They may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).