Assistant Professor of Oncology
Roisin Maritxell Connolly is a long way from her native Ireland. The primary driving force that landed her here? The opportunity to engage in meaningful research, which she began during her fellowship training at Johns Hopkins and continues today as a physician-scientist.
Dr. Connolly notices that in the U.S., patients—many of whom are well-educated about the availability of clinical trials and research—take a proactive approach to their disease. “Patients come here [Johns Hopkins] seeking out excellent medical care and the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. They understand that the oncologists they see here are experts in their field, both nationally and internationally,” she says. Dr. Connolly is fast establishing herself as one of these experts.
The overarching goals of her research include improving outcomes for breast cancer patients, both those with early stage and metastatic disease. Like other researchers at Hopkins, Dr. Connolly is examining ways to identify biomarkers in blood or tissue samples to predict patients’ response to treatment. The ultimate goal is to tailor treatment to the individual.
“We’re trying to develop treatments that are different from the norm,” she says.
Dr. Connolly is about to embark on an exciting study whose results may enable some breast cancer patients to eliminate chemotherapy from their treatment regimen, thereby avoiding the uncomfortable side effects associated with it.
The standard treatment for patients with HER2-positive breast cancer is to receive chemotherapy and anti-HER2 therapy (trastuzumab) after undergoing surgery to remove their tumor. It is evident, however, that a subgroup of these patients may benefit from anti-HER2 therapy alone—a relatively non-toxic approach—and may not need chemotherapy at all.
For 12 weeks prior to undergoing surgery, Dr. Connolly and her collaborators will administer to patients with HER2-positive breast cancer a novel anti-HER2 agent, pertuzumab, in addition to trastuzumab. They hope to identify biomarkers that will predict response to the combination. The long-term goal? To determine if a subgroup of patients can be treated with this therapeutic combination in the absence of chemotherapy.
“Our hope is that the results from this trial may determine who will not need chemotherapy,” Dr. Connolly says.