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Josh Lauring, Ben Ho Park and Antonio C. Wolff

The phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3-kinase)-Akt-mTOR pathway is a central signal transduction pathway that regulates many critical aspects of normal and cancer physiology, including cell proliferation, apoptosis, cell morphology and migration, protein synthesis, and integration of metabolism. In breast cancer, somatic mutations that activate the pathway occur in more than 50% of tumors, underscoring the potentially broad impact of targeting the pathway for therapy. A vast body of preclinical data demonstrates the efficacy of pathway inhibition on tumor growth, and evidence also shows that activation of the pathway occurs in models of acquired resistance to hormonal therapy. This preclinical work led to the investigation of allosteric mTOR inhibitors, everolimus and temsirolimus, in metastatic hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. The recent BOLERO-2 trial comparing everolimus plus exemestane versus placebo plus exemestane in women with resistance to nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitors demonstrated a 6-month improvement in progression-free survival and led to FDA approval of everolimus for this indication in the United States. This landmark trial is the first demonstration of significant clinical benefit using drugs targeting this pathway in breast cancer. Many questions remain about the role of everolimus and other pathway-targeting drugs in clinical development in breast cancer treatment. This article reviews the role of the PI3-kinase-Akt-mTOR pathway in breast cancer biology and the clinical trial evidence available to date.

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Natasha Hunter, Sarah Croessmann, Karen Cravero, Daniel Shinn, Paula J. Hurley and Ben Ho Park

The ability to serially monitor tumor-derived cell-free DNA (cfDNA) brings with it the potential to measure response to anticancer therapies and detect minimal residual disease (MRD). This report describes a patient with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer with an exceptional response to trastuzumab and nab-paclitaxel who remains in complete remission several years after cessation of therapy. Next-generation sequencing of the patient’s primary tumor tissue showed several mutations, including an oncogenic hotspot PIK3CA mutation. A sample of cfDNA was collected 6 years after her last therapy and then analyzed for mutant PIK3CA using digital PCR. No detectable mutations associated with the primary tumor were found despite assaying >10,000 genome equivalents, suggesting that the patient had achieved a molecular remission. Results of this case study suggest that serial monitoring of MRD using liquid biopsies could provide a useful method for individualizing treatment plans for patients with metastatic disease with extreme responses to therapy. However, large-scale clinical studies are needed to validate and implement these techniques for patient care.

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Justin Lee, Jennifer Axilbund, W. Brian Dalton, Daniel Laheru, Stanley Watkins, David Chu, Karen Cravero, Berry Button, Kelly Kyker-Snowman, Ian Waters, Christopher D. Gocke, Josh Lauring and Ben Ho Park

Next-generation sequencing (NGS) is increasingly being used in cancer care to identify both somatic tumor driver mutations that can be targeted for therapy, and heritable mutations in the germline associated with increased cancer risk. This report presents a case of a JAK2 V617F mutation falsely identified as a duodenal cancer mutation via NGS. The patient was found to have a history of polycythemia vera, a disorder with a high incidence of JAK2 somatic mutations. Buccal cell DNA showed heterozygosity for the mutation, suggesting that it was potentially germline. However, subsequent resequencing of tumor, adjacent normal tissue, and fingernail DNA confirmed the mutation was somatic, and its presence in tumor and buccal cells resulted from contaminating blood cells. This report highlights important nuances of NGS that can lead to misinterpretation of results with potential clinical implications.