The research goal of pathologist Aziza Nassar, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is to improve the well-being of patients with breast cancer through translational research that facilitates targeted, individualized therapy and risk-reduction strategies. Dr. Nassar works with a multidisciplinary team that is trying to define tissue-based features of breast cancer risk. She has clinical and research interests in patients with an increased risk of breast cancer and gynecological cancer. Dr. Nassar collaborated on several projects with the benign breast disease team at Mayo Clinic trying to identify biomarkers and several histologic features that determine the risk of developing breast cancer. They also attempted to identify strategies that reduce the risk of subsequent breast cancer.
- Breast cancer. Dr. Nassar's research efforts focus on prognostic and predictive biomarkers of breast cancer and on precursor and benign breast disease lesions. These novel biomarkers enhance risk prediction for benign breast disease. In addition, they help determine when benign breast disease is most likely to progress to breast cancer, which in conjunction with other epidemiologic and clinical factors translates into a more refined risk prediction model than currently available clinical models.
- Tumor immune response. Dr. Nassar's recent research focus is on the development of novel biomarkers, especially those related to the immune profile in the tumor microenvironment. This research aims to understand how tumors evade the immune system using the therapeutic potential of agents that target PD-1 or its ligand PDL-1 in patients with advanced breast cancer.
- Molecular techniques. Another research interest is the application of molecular techniques, in particular fluorescence in-situ hybridization (FISH), to nongynecological specimens.
- Cervical cancer. Dr. Nassar also is interested in the epidemiology of cervical cancer and the role of human papillomavirus in cervical oncogenesis.
Significance to patient care
Dr. Nassar's research is helping determine who might be at an increased risk of breast cancer. Dr. Nassar and her colleagues in the benign breast disease team have discovered that benign breast disease is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Specifically, they studied a benign breast lesion called sclerosing adenosis, which carries a twofold increased risk of developing breast cancer. Moreover, they found that using a biomarker such as Ki-67 (a proliferative marker), when overexpressed in those lesions, also increases the risk of breast cancer by twofold. They also discovered that these benign lesions express some genes that can predict the risk of developing breast cancer in the future. This information could help people make informed decisions about their health care and perhaps evaluate risk assessment and strategies for preventive measures and targeted therapies.
Awards and honors
- Honorable distinction, Basic Award Category, Breast Pathology Abstracts, "OncotypeDx and Prosigna in Breast Cancer Patients With a Predominantly Intermediate Recurrence Score: A Comparison Validation," International Society of Breast Pathology, San Antonio, Texas, 2017
- Certificate in Clinical and Translational Science, Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCaTS) Postdoctoral Certificate Program, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, Rochester, Minn., 2012-2014
- Career Development Award, Mayo Clinic Breast Cancer SPORE, NCI P50 CA116201, "Sclerosing Adenosis: A Risk Predictor for Breast Cancer," National Cancer Institute, Rochester, Minnesota, 2011-2013
- Best clinical research paper award, International Society of Breast Pathology, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 2012
- First Award, best research paper in cytopathology, Papanicolaou Society of Cytopathology, Boston, 2010
- Warren R. Lang Resident Physician Award, Best Poster, 50th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society of Cytopathology, Salt Lake City, 2002
- Co-investigator, Phase 1 Clinical Trial of a Novel HER2 Vaccine for Patients with DCIS (partnering principal investigator with Amy C. Degnim, M.D., at Mayo Clinic), Department of Defense (W81XWH-16-1-0265), September 2016-September 2024
- Co-investigator, Folate Receptor Alpha Vaccines for Preventing Progression of TNBC Following First-Line Conventional Therapy (partnering principal investigator with Edith A. Perez, M.D., at Mayo Clinic, BC141410P1), Department of Defense (W81XWH-15-1-0293), September 2015-September 2024
- Pathologist, A Phase 1b/2 Trial Evaluating the Combination of TG4001 and Avelumab in Patients with HPV-16 Positive Recurrent or Metastatic Malignancies, Transgene S.A., November 2021-December 2023
- Co-investigator, Combination Trastuzumab and Vaccine Therapy to Prevent Disease Recurrence in Locally Advanced HER2+ Breast Cancer (partnering principal investigator with Keith L. Knutson, Ph.D., at Mayo Clinic, BC170530-2017 CDMRP-BCRP), Department of Defense (W81XWH-18-1-0563), September 2018-September 2022
- Co-investigator, Engineered Invasive Human Breast Tumors With Integrated Capillaries and Lymphatics (subaward on U01 of Joe Tien, Ph.D., at Boston University), National Cancer Institute (CA214292), April 2017-March 2022
- Editorial board member, Diagnostic Cytopathology, February 2016-present
- Editorial board member, Applied Immunohistochemistry & Molecular Morphology, April 2015-present