Headlines & Helpful Information, Research, Dollars Making A Difference
By: David Vaught, Ph.D.
Einstein’s theory of relativity, the Pythagorean
theorem and Lehmann’s Refined Classification – what do these have in common? The first two are named to
reflect the significant contributions made by the individuals responsible for
their founding. In the world of breast cancer research, Lehmann’s Refined
Classification may one day have a similar impact.
Dr. Brian Lehmann has dedicated his career to
the study of triple-negative
breast cancer (TNBC), an especially aggressive form of breast cancer
with a poor survival rate. He began his studies while training in Dr. Jennifer
Pietenpol’s laboratory at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN.
Dr. Pietenpol currently serves as Chief
Scientific Advisor for Komen, and is considered a leading expert in TNBC.
Dr. Lehmann says, “TNBC is a challenge to treat because
it is defined by the absence of, rather than the presence of, estrogen
receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and HER2. Therefore, the disease itself
is not one disease but a collection of breast cancers that do not fit into well
Under Dr. Pietenpol’s guidance and with funding
from Komen, Dr. Lehmann published his work in the Journal of Clinical
Investigation (JCI) and in PLOS
One. He showed that TNBC can be organized into six subtypes:mesenchymal
stem-like (MSL) immunomodulatory (IM), basal-like 1 (BL1), basal-like 2 (BL2),
mesenchymal (M) and luminal androgen receptor (LAR). He also demonstrated that certain
subtypes are more responsive to treatment than others. The ability to
distinguish distinct biological subtypes of TNBC could better inform clinical trial design and help identify new
biomarkers and drug targets. It could also help guide treatment decisions for people
and ultimately improve long-term survival.
Classification is a name ascribed to his findings and was coined by fellow Komen-funded
investigators in a Clinical
Cancer Research publication. This finding focused on evaluating the predictive value of Lehmann’s TNBC subtyping in people. This
work validated Dr. Lehmann’s classification by showing that certain TNBC
subtypes respond better or worse to chemotherapy. One of the major challenges facing
people with TNBC is the inability to predict which patients will respond to
standard chemotherapy. So, this work could have major implications in the
clinic by guiding clinical decisions to
align people with treatments most likely to work for their subtype of disease.
Lehmann in his laboratory at Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Dr. Lehmann is driven by the desire to
improve patients’ lives, expand the treatment options available and provide people
and their health care providers with the most accurate information. His work holds a lot of promise in accomplishing
these goals. Like many basic research scientists, who do not directly interact with
patients, Dr. Lehmann thought it would be years before his discoveries directly
impacted the life of a patient. However, his work made a clinical impact much
earlier than expected.
used Dr. Lehmann’s TNBC subtype classification data (JCI publication above) to
help a person with TNBC gain entry into a clinical trial after she was initially
denied access to due to eligibility requirements. When asked about this, Dr.
Lehmann said, “I strive to make sure
my work will improve patient lives, knowing it could be years or decades before
I see the clinical result. But, in this case, my research made a direct impact
on the life of one patient and there is no better reward than that.”
In recognition for his dedication to breast cancer research and
improving the lives of those facing TNBC, Dr. Lehmann was named a 2019 Pink Tie Guy
for the Komen Central Tennessee Affiliate.
Return to Blog Home