Scholars / Precision Medicine

Although we often define cancer by the organ in which it arises, there are over 100 types of cancer with each one unique as the other. Research at UW propels our understanding of your individual tumor so we can personalize your therapy.

Rong Hu, MD, PhD

Dr. Hu’s work evaluates patient samples to test new cancer biomarkers and treatment approaches.

Tissue microarray (TMA) is a powerful tool to study cancer biomarkers for cancer diagnosis, prognosis and treatment prediction. Dr. Hu is currently in the process of building multiple head neck cancer TMAs from different anatomic sites as a part of Head Neck SPORE projects to support the head neck cancer research at UW campus. Construction of TMAs including retrieving pertinent clinical data is a complex process involving head neck research coordinators, statisticians, surgical pathology department, pathologists and research laboratories. Dr. Hu’s goal is to expedite the entire process and enable UW researchers to rapidly provide HNC SPORE investigators TMAs with the quality-controlled clinical data.

Melissa Skala, PhD

Dr. Skala is developing new approaches to harness the immune system to help attack breast cancer.

Dr. Skala’s research develops personalized drug screening technologies for breast cancer immunotherapies. Her past work has established new optical imaging technologies that can predict breast cancer response to chemotherapy and targeted therapies. In parallel, new methods have been developed to monitor immune-tumor cell interactions in breast cancer biopsies, so Dr. Skala plans to further develop optical imaging technologies to assess response to immunotherapies in patient samples. If successful, these technologies could be used to match patients to the best treatment combinations for effective immunotherapy, and therefore improve outcomes in breast cancer patients.

David Beebe, PhD

Dr. Beebe’s research focuses on understanding how cancer cells spread and respond to cancer therapies.

Dr. Beebe’s work focuses on the development of 3D in vitro models that can recapitulate in vivo geometry and interactions present in the lymphatic system in head and neck cancer and allow for improved study of HNC metastasis via the lymphatics. Specifically, Dr. Beebe will expand his patient-derived lymphatic vessel model for studying lymphatic vessel interactions with HNCCs and the tumor microenvironment to evaluate its potential for informing personalized therapy.

Beth Weaver, PhD

Studying how tumor cells grow and divide and who is discovering new biomarkers to better predict which tumors will respond best to specific cancer therapies.

Paclitaxel (TaxolTM) is one of the most commonly used drugs to treat a variety of cancers, including primary and metastatic breast cancer. However, not all patients benefit from paclitaxel therapy. Currently, there is no way to identify these patients prior to treatment. A biomarker to predict which patients will benefit from paclitaxel would substantially improve patient outcomes. Paclitaxel is a microtubule poison that, at concentrations typically used in cell culture, arrests cells in mitosis. However, Dr. Weaver has found that concentrations of paclitaxel in primary breast cancers are too low to cause mitotic arrest. Instead, these low concentrations cause chromosome missegregation on multipolar spindles. Work from Dr. Weaver’s laboratory and others has shown that increasing the rate of chromosome missegregation over a maximally tolerated threshold results in cell death and tumor suppression in cell culture and animal models. We hypothesize that tumors that are sensitive to paclitaxel therapy have a pre-existing rate of chromosome missegregation. Dr. Weaver’s research will therefore test whether specific types of chromosome missegregation sensitize tumors to paclitaxel therapy.