Right Drug, Right Patient, Right Time

How Multi-Time Grantee Christina Curtis, Ph.D., Continues to Develop Advancements in Breast Cancer Research

At 15 years old, Christina Curtis, Ph.D., decided what career to pursue – cancer research, particularly focusing on breast cancer. 

“I was really motivated by a family history of cancer, having lost my grandfather and other relatives as I was learning about the secrets of biology,” Dr. Curtis said. “It became apparent to me that we didn’t know quite as much as I thought we would at that point in time.”

This pivotal moment, combined with an impactful Women in Science program in high school, set her on the path towards a Ph.D. in the field. Although her journey has evolved over time, Dr. Curtis has remained dedicated to breast cancer research ever since.

Academic Achievements and Research Focus

Now, Dr. Curtis is a Professor of Medicine (Oncology), Genetics and Biomedical Data Science and an Endowed Scholar at Stanford University. She also serves as the Director of Artificial Intelligence and Cancer Genomics and of Breast Cancer Translational Research. Her research primarily focuses on understanding breast cancer progression and response to therapy. Over the years, she has garnered multiple awards for her groundbreaking contributions to breast cancer research.

Dr. Curtis has been a recipient of V Foundation funding, which has played a crucial role in advancing her breast cancer research endeavors. Initially awarded as a V Scholar in 2012, the funding supported innovative ideas in breast cancer research. Subsequent grants have enabled her to delve deeper into understanding breast cancer tumor evolution, therapy evasion, and metastasis, laying the foundation for personalized breast cancer therapies.

Personalized Therapies and Chemotherapy Optimization

Building upon that breast cancer research, Dr. Curtis received a translational grant from the V Foundation in 2016 focused upon developing personalized therapies. The goal was to understand how patients may or may not benefit from chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is vitally important in cancer treatment today, but it can be toxic to the body.

“We want to make sure that the patients that need it receive it and those that don’t have to receive this drug or in instances where patients might not achieve sufficient benefit. We want to spare them that toxicity.”

Advancements in Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapies

Today, Dr. Curtis is focused on how to optimize immunotherapies and targeted therapies in breast cancer. A wealth of knowledge has been accumulated through machine learning and artificial intelligence, more than we have ever had before. Breast cancer research is now using that knowledge to anticipate what is the right treatment option for the right patient at the right time.

“We’re at a place in time where we have the opportunity to personalize those therapies,” Dr. Curtis said. “By that I mean delivering the right drug to the right patient at the right time, maximizing the efficacy of those agents and minimizing their toxicity but to do this we need to develop better biomarkers.”

While immunotherapies are being used to treat multiple cancers, relatively little research has focused on breast cancer. They first needed to understand how to best utilize this advancement. New technologies have allowed them to profile tumors in their native context, giving information on the best way to treat individually within the tumor’s microenvironment within the tissue.

The Role of Cancer Research in Advancing Medicine

Dr. Curtis emphasizes the critical role of breast cancer research in driving medical advancements. Ultimately, these advancements throughout Dr. Curtis’ impressive career would not be possible without cancer research in general. Organizations like the V Foundation are crucial to supporting life-saving research, and inspired scientists, like Dr. Curtis, are fearlessly pursuing Victory Over Cancer®.

“Cancer research is really the key to all advances. We have to study the unknown,” Dr. Curtis said. “We have to revisit questions that we once thought we understood, perhaps sometimes with new tools. Research is really the impetus for breakthroughs in cancer treatment and I fundamentally believe that.

“That’s why I do what I do and what keeps me going. It is a passion and I think many of my colleagues share that. This work provides hope for better diagnoses, treatments and prevention. This is the path we are on. This is what we have to continue to do and we need to accelerate the pace.”

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