Conquer Cancer Foundation Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Priscilla Brastianos

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Priscilla Brastianos, MD
Director, Central Nervous System Metastasis Program
Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston
Metastatic brain cancer

People are inspired to pursue careers in cancer research for any number of reasons: They might like the challenging nature of cancer science or the fast pace of the field. For others, however, the motivation to conquer cancer is more personal. Priscilla Brastianos, MD, Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Central Nervous System Metastasis Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, is one of these individuals.

“My grandmother was 23 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and at that time, she was one of the only females in her medical school in Greece,” Dr. Brastianos explained. “Ultimately, she passed away when she was 29 of metastatic breast cancer.”

Years later, Dr. Brastianos’ mother was also diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, from which she too passed away. “I am reminded every day of how much I miss my mother, and that drives me,” she added. “We need to find better treatment options for patients with metastatic cancer.”

Studying Metastatic Cancer

Metastatic cancer kills 80% to 90% of patients with cancer. Finding better treatments for people with metastatic disease is critical to conquering cancer and prolonging survival. Thanks to a 2012 Conquer Cancer Foundation (CCF) Young Investigator Award, Dr. Brastianos and her team have been working diligently to understand metastatic cancer. Specifically, they have been investigating why and how cancer travels to the brain from other places, with a focus on breast cancers, lung cancers, melanomas, and more.

“Using CCF funding, we were able to establish an international collaboration whereby we collected tissue samples from all over the world,” said Dr. Brastianos. “We sequenced the brain metastases and the primary tumors, and we identified new genetic drivers in the brain metastases that were not detected in the primary tumors.”

First Clinical Trial of Its Kind

Now that these new genetic drivers have been discovered, doctors may be able to deliver better, targeted therapies to patients with certain types of metastatic brain cancer. This work has led to the first clinical trial of its kind in the United States, at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. The trial will evaluate brain metastasis tissue as part of clinical care and then treat patients with the appropriate targeted therapy.

Cutting-edge, potentially lifesaving research like this would not be possible without the generosity of CCF donors. “Thank you for the support, and for making a difference in the lives of patients with metastatic disease to the brain,” said Dr. Brastianos.

Dr. Brastianos’ Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award was supported by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. ■

Originally featured by the Conquer Cancer Foundation. © American Society of Clinical Oncology. “Dr. Priscilla Brastianos.” All rights reserved.