Topic Overview:

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and worldwide. Recent advances in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) have come from recognition that NSCLC is not a single disease but rather a collection of distinct, molecularly-driven neoplasms. For example, adenocarcinoma patients having the EGFR mutant or EML4-ALK translocation oncogenes can be treated using tyrosine kinase inhibitors that target these oncogenes. Unfortunately, little progress has been made in the treatment of patients with the most frequently observed oncogene, mutant KRAS, which is present in approximately 25 percent of all NSCLC. Patients with this mutation have an increased risk of recurrence in early stage disease and a worse prognosis with metastatic disease.

Burns’ research and clinical interests are focused on the development of targeted therapies for KRAS mutant NSCLC. One line of inquiry is on the role of the transcription factor TWIST1, which Burns has found to be essential for lung tumorigenesis for several key oncogenic drivers, including mutant KRAS. Burns’ lab also studies mechanisms of resistance to the Hsp90 inhibitor ganetespib in KRAS mutant NSCLC, and is developing a preclinical trial to study ganetespib in combination with an mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin, a serine/threonine kinase) inhibitor in patients.