Purdue University Graduate School
Akhand_PhD_Thesis.pdf (10.81 MB)


Download (10.81 MB)
posted on 2020-04-29, 19:52 authored by Saeed Salehin AkhandSaeed Salehin Akhand
Breast cancer (BC) is one of the deadliest forms of cancers with high incidence and mortality rates, especially in women. Encouragingly, targeted therapies have improved the overall
survival and quality of life in patients with various subtypes of BC. Unfortunately, these first-line therapies often fail due to inherent as well as acquired resistance of cancer cells. Treatment evading cancer cells can exhibit systemic dormancy in patients over a long period of time without manifesting any symptoms. In a suitable environment, these undetected disseminated tumor cells can relapse in the form of metastasis. Therefore, it is essential to understand the mechanisms of
BC recurrence and to develop durable therapeutic interventions to improve patient’s survival. In this dissertation work, we studied fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFR), as therapeutic targets to treat the recurrence of drug-resistant and immune-dormant BC metastasis.

The HER2 subtype of BC is characterized by the overexpression of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which drives elevated downstream signaling promoting tumorigenesis. Trastuzumab emtansine (T-DM1) is an antibody-drug conjugate in which an anti-HER2 antibody targets HER2 overexpressing tumor cells and delivers a highly potent microtubule inhibitor. Using novel models of minimal residual disease (MRD) following T-DM1 treatments, we found that epithelial to mesenchymal transition is a critical process for cells to persist the TDM1 treatments. The upregulation of FGFR1 may facilitate insensitivity to T-DM1. Our data also showed that FGFR1 overexpression in HER2+ tumors leads to a higher incidence of recurrence, and these recurrent tumors show sensitivity towards covalent inhibition of FGFR.

In addition to drug-induced MRD in the primary tumor sites, disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) can demonstrate dormant phenotype via maintaining an equilibrium with immunemediated tumor clearance. Factors affecting such equilibrium may contribute to the recurrence of breast cancers metastasis. We show that such immune-mediated dormancy can be modeled with the 4T07 tumors. These tumors display immune-exclusion phenotypes in metastatic pulmonary organs. The inhibition of FGFR modulates the immune cell compositions of pulmonary organs favoring anti-tumor immunity. However, inhibition of FGFR may also affect T cell receptor downstream signaling, resulting in the inhibition of cytolytic T cell’s function. Finally, we report that combination therapy using the FGFR kinase inhibitor and an immune checkpoint blockade showed effective targeting of metastatic 4T07 tumors.

FGFR signaling as a therapeutic target in various tumors has been an active focus of cancer research. In this dissertation work, we have expanded our understanding of the role of FGFR in the recurrence of drug-resistant breast cancers as well as in the maintenance of an immune evasive microenvironment promoting pulmonary growth of tumors. Moreover, we presented evidence that it is possible to repurpose FGFR targeted therapy alone or in combination with checkpoint blockades to target recurrent metastatic BCs. In the future, our novel models of minimal residual diseases and systemic immune dormancy may act as valuable biological tools to expand our understanding of the minimal residual disease and dormant tumor cells.


The American Cancer Society (RSG-CSM130259) to MKW

The National Institutes of Health (R01CA207751) to MKW

Lilly Endowment Fellowship to SSA


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Michael Wendt

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Emily Dykhuizen

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Chang-Deng Hu

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Timothy Ratliff