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Drs. Miller, Nakshatri named co-program leaders of breast cancer research program

INDIANAPOLIS -- (October 04, 2012) -- Kathy Miller, M.D., and Harikrishna Nakshatri, B.V.Sc., Ph.D., have been named co-leaders of the breast cancer research program at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.

Dr. Miller, associate professor of medicine and Sheila D. Ward Scholar at the Indiana University School of Medicine, has an established track record of designing and leading breast cancer clinical trials. Currently, she’s leading a clinical trial to reduce breast cancer recurrence in women with recently diagnosed breast cancer. The nationwide study will determine if anti-angiogenic treatment, in combination with standard breast cancer drugs, will reduce recurrence of the disease, particularly among high-risk women with early-stage disease. This treatment prevents new blood vessels from forming to nourish cancer cells.

Dr. Miller also recently launched a trial to evaluate the impact of breast cancer therapies on patients’ energy expenditure and muscle function. Data from this study will guide interventions to improve the lives of breast cancer patients after diagnosis.

She received the Young Investigator Award from the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) for substantial scientific contributions in 2007. ECOG is a research network whose large-scale cancer treatment clinical trials for major diseases have changed the standard of care for adult cancer patients and helped to individualize their therapy.

Dr. Miller succeeds George Sledge, M.D., who was a co-leader of the program.

Dr. Nakshatri, the Marian J. Morrison Professor in Breast Cancer Research, professor of surgery and of biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine, was first named interim co-leader of the program in 2011. An accomplished basic scientist, Dr. Nakshatri isolates and studies breast cancer stem cells as potential targets for treatment. His research focuses on the theory that the stem cell is within the tumor mass but most likely escapes treatment because of its enhanced ability to survive. 

Dr. Nakshatri also is working to determine if the type of stem cell present in a tumor predetermines where the cancer will metastasize (spread). If this theory is proven, physicians could predict, at the time of initial surgery, the chances of metastasis to the bone, the lungs or the brain. The goal of this research is to design treatments to prevent growth of cancer cells in those organs. 

Dr. Nakshatri and his colleagues also study why certain breast cancers do not respond to commonly used anti-estrogen therapies. 

“Over the past two decades, the breast cancer program has become one of the most productive in the country,” Patrick J. Loehrer Sr., M.D. director of the IU Simon Cancer Center and HH Gregg Professor of Oncology at IU School of Medicine, said. “I am thrilled that Kathy and Hari, both locally and nationally-respected researchers, have agreed to lead the IU Simon Cancer Center efforts toward excellence in research and patient care. Together with their colleagues, they will bring together talent from different disciplines to expand new insights into breast cancer biology and to impact the outcomes for prevention and treatment of this disease.”

Drs. Miller and Nakshatri are both Komen Scholars, which is an advisory group of distinguished leaders in breast cancer research and advocacy. Komen Scholars advise and provide expertise to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The goals of the cancer center’s breast cancer research program are to understand the biology underlying breast cancer and to apply understanding of that biology to improve prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.  It is one of four research programs at the IU Simon Cancer Center. The others are: Cancer Prevention and Control, Experimental and Developmental Therapeutics, and Hematopoiesis, Malignant Hematology and Immunology. A fifth program, Tumor Microenvironment and Metastases, is a developing program.

The IU Simon Cancer Center is Indiana’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center that provides patient care and one of only 67 in the nation. NCI-designated cancer centers are recognized for meeting rigorous criteria for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary cancer research. These centers put significant resources into developing research programs, faculty and facilities that will lead to better approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.