Woman Leading the Way
Lauren Averett Byers, M.D., assistant professor of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, is the 2013 recipient of the Sidney Kimmel Scholar Award.
Lauren Averett Byers, M.D., assistant professor of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, began her research training at Princeton University, where she studied Molecular Biology and worked in the laboratory of Arnold J. Levine, Ph.D. She obtained her medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in 2003 and continued her clinical training at Johns Hopkins, where she completed her residency in internal medicine in 2006.
During medical school, Dr. Byers was appointed as a Howard Hughes Research Scholar at the National Cancer Institute, where she spent a dedicated research year in Lou Staudt’s lab. She had the opportunity to be part of a groundbreaking research team that used gene expression profiling to identify molecularly distinct subsets of lymphoma (“The use of molecular profiling to predict survival after chemotherapy for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma,” NEJM, 2002). These studies marked an important advance in the understanding of DLBCL and played a pivotal role in Dr. Byers’ development as a physician scientist. It was this experience at the NIH that inspired her to pursue a career in translational “bench-to-bedside” research.
Having grown up in Houston, Dr. Byers returned to her home town as an MD Anderson medical oncology fellow. During fellowship, she benefited from strong mentorship by eminent faculty at MD Anderson, including Drs. John Heymach, Gordon Mills, and Waun Ki Hong. “I am lucky to have had great mentors all along the way--starting with my high school biology teacher, Mrs. Alice Kagi. The senior leadership at MD Anderson is also very committed to the development of its trainees and junior faculty, and that is a unique feature of this institution and one that has provided incredible opportunities for me to grow as a physician-scientist,” says Dr. Byers. Based on the initial success of her research during her fellowship, she was selected for the Rattay Advanced Scholar Program. Dr. Byers was then appointed an assistant professor (tenure track) in Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology.
Dr. Byers’ research, initiated during fellowship and the Advanced Scholar’s Program, led to the identification of poly ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) as a potential clinical target in small cell lung cancer (SCLC) (Byers et al Cancer Discovery, 2012). Unlike non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which has a growing number of targetable biomarkers (e.g. EGFR, ALK, ROS1), SCLC has no approved targeted drugs and standard of care chemotherapy has remained largely unchanged for more than 20 years. The discovery that PARP1 is overexpressed in SCLC has led to several clinical trials currently underway to examine PARP inhibitors in SCLC. “Bringing these drugs into the clinic for the potential benefit of our patients has been incredibly exciting and is the goal of our research,” says Dr. Byers. Based on this work, her lab is exploring additional targeted drugs that may also be active in a subset of SCLC patients.
In recognition of her successes, Dr. Byers has been awarded multiple highly competitive awards and fellowships. She was the recipient of the ASCO Young Investigator’s Award and an AACR fellowship grant as a medical oncology fellow, and as junior faculty has been awarded an MD Anderson Physician Scientist Award, as well as multiple independent grants, including the LUNGevity Career Development Award, National Lung Cancer Partnership Young Investigator Award, and a Lung Cancer Research Foundation Award. Dr. Byers is the recipient of the 2013 NCI Cancer Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award, which recognizes highly exceptional clinical investigators for their contributions to the advancement of clinical research through collaborative team science. She received this award through MD Anderson’s Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG). Most recently, Dr. Byers was awarded the prestigious Sidney Kimmel Scholar Award for her proposal, “Co-targeting of PARP1 and the PI3K pathway in small cell lung cancer.” Building on her early findings of elevated PARP in SCLC, she will investigate important feedback mechanisms through which a subset of SCLC will exhibit primary or acquired resistance to PARP inhibitors.
Broadly, Dr. Byers’ laboratory research builds on the molecular profiling of >200 lung and head and neck cancer cell lines and several large patient tumor cohorts using high-throughput proteomic (reverse phase protein array), gene expression and DNA analyses. These data have proven to be of great value, allowing the comparison of baseline profiles of tumors with varying histology, as well as identify biomarkers of therapeutic response and resistance in cell lines and in large cohorts of patient tumors. Using this strategy, Dr. Byers has recently identified an epithelial-to-mesenchymal signature in NSCLC that predicts resistance to EGFR inhibitors and the receptor tyrosine kinase, Axl, as a potential therapeutic target in mesenchymal NSCLC (Byers, Clin Cancer Res, 2013). She has also applied her skills in proteomic profiling and translational research as a member of the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) working groups.
In her free time, Dr. Byers enjoys spending time with her husband, Will; their son, William; and their families.