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.

“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.”

Through that decision, and an impactful Women in Science program in high school, Dr. Curtis sought a Ph.D. in the field. Although that has evolved more over time, she’s been dedicated to cancer research ever since.

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 focuses on understanding cancer progression and response to therapy, with a focus on breast cancer, and she’s received multiple awards for her research.

Dr. Curtis has received V Foundation funding on multiple occasions, first in 2012 as a V Scholar. At the time, her research focused on ideas that were new in the cancer research landscape. Funding from the V Foundation allowed her, and her team, to do work she deemed foundational to her understanding of how tumors evolve, evade therapy and metastasize to different organ sites.

Building upon that 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 needed 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.”

Today, Dr. Curtis is focused on how to optimize immunotherapies and targeted therapies in breast cancer. They’ve accumulated a wealth of knowledge through machine learning and artificial intelligence, more than we have ever had before. 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.

Ultimately, these advancements throughout Dr. Curtis’ impressive career would not be possible without cancer research. 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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