SNMMI Mars Shot/Lobular Breast Cancer Alliance Announce Recipient of the Invasive Lobular Carcinoma Imaging Research Fellowship

March 1, 2023

Marina Sharifi, MD, PhD

The SNMMI Mars Shot Research Fund and the Lobular Breast Cancer Alliance (LBCA) are excited to announce that Marina Sharifi, MD, PhD, has been selected as the recipient of the joint SNMMI/LBCA Invasive Lobular Carcinoma Imaging Research Fellowship.

This research fellowship is the first to be awarded as part of the new SNMMI Mars Shot Research Fund—established to provide resources that translate visionary nuclear medicine imaging, radiopharmaceutical therapy, and data science research or projects into tools or treatments helping improve the lives of patients.

Dr. Sharifi was awarded the $100,000 SNMMI/LBCA research fellowship based on her proposal, “Integrating minimally invasive biomarkers of estrogen signaling to detect endocrine therapy resistance in metastatic invasive lobular cancer.”

Despite recent therapeutic advances, metastatic breast cancer remains a leading cause of death in women in the U.S. due to treatment resistance. Lobular breast cancer, which accounts for about 15% of breast cancer diagnoses, is almost always estrogen driven (ER+) and treated according to standard approaches for ER+ ductal breast cancers. However, the investigation of lobular breast cancer cells in the lab has suggested that they are less likely to respond well to anti-estrogen therapy than ductal breast cancers, suggesting patients with metastatic lobular breast cancer would be more likely to experience anti-estrogen therapy resistance. Unfortunately, there are not yet clinical diagnostic approaches for early detection of lobular tumors that are resistant to anti-estrogen therapy, and it is only after 3-6 months and endurance of drug side effects that patients with anti-estrogen resistant metastatic disease can be identified and offered alternative treatment approaches.

Dr. Sharifi intends to study an innovative approach that combines two non-invasive tests—one a blood test and the other an imaging test known as positron emission tomography, or PET, that uses an investigational radiopharmaceutical called 18F-FFNP—to understand earlier whether treatment of the metastatic lobular tumor is effectively suppressing estrogen signaling and controlling or eradicating a patient’s lobular breast cancer cells. While both tests have been studied before in ER+ metastatic breast cancer, neither has been studied specifically in lobular breast cancer.

"The goals of this proposal are (1) to identify how tumor estrogen signaling changes on treatment via the imaging test, (2) to identify how tumor estrogen signaling changes on treatment via the blood test, and (3) to understand whether the combination of the imaging and blood test can distinguish between patients whose cancers will respond to anti-estrogen therapy and patients whose cancers are resistant to this type of treatment. This proposal would lay the groundwork for larger clinical trials testing the ability of this approach in identifying patients with anti-estrogen resistance early to offer them an alternative more effective treatment and minimize exposure to side effects from a treatment that is not effective. Early determination of drug sensitivity combined with accurately targeted therapies has the best potential to turn metastatic, lobular breast cancer into a manageable chronic, rather than deadly, disease."

Dr. Sharifi is a physician scientist whose research focuses on developing functional biomarkers and novel therapeutic strategies to overcome treatment resistance in advanced breast and prostate cancer. Her clinical focus is medical oncology. She completed her MD and PhD training in cancer biology at the University of Chicago. She then joined the University of Wisconsin Physician Scientist Training program for internal medicine residency and medical oncology fellowship, followed by post-doctoral research supported by a Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Physician Scientist Fellowship under the mentorship of Dr. Joshua Lang, where she focused on developing approaches for transcriptional and protein profiling of liquid biopsies in advanced cancer. Since 2022, she has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

About Invasive Lobular Carcinoma

ILC, also known as lobular breast cancer, represents 15% of all breast cancer diagnoses annually in the US and is the second most common histologic subtype of breast cancer, afflicting nearly 44,000 new people each year. ILC is a unique histological subtype of breast cancer with some troubling characteristics. These include the fact that ILC tumors, which typically form in linear patterns rather than lumps, are often more difficult to detect with standard imaging. They are often missed until they are larger and later-stage, and progression is difficult to monitor. Learn more about ILC.

About the SNMMI Mars Shot Research Fund

The ‘Mars Shot for Nuclear Medicine, Molecular Imaging, and Molecularly Targeted Radiopharmaceutical Therapy’ is a forward-looking glimpse into the future of nuclear medicine. Its goal is to provide resources for the translation of visionary nuclear medicine imaging, radiopharmaceutical therapy, and data science research or projects into tools or treatments helping improve the lives of patients.