Menu Close

Congrats to Postdoc Olivia McGinn for receiving the Hillman Postdoctoral Fellowship for Innovative Cancer Research!

Olivia McGinn, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow

This training program is designed to recruit postdoctoral fellows from around the country to conduct cutting edge research at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. For her project, Olivia will be investigating why invasive lobular breast carcinoma (ILC) displays a unique pattern of metastasis relative to the more common form of breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). Whereas both ILC and IDC metastasize to the bone, liver, and lungs, ILC displays an increased propensity to metastasize to the GI tract and reproductive organs. To study this, she is investigating the contribution of mesothelial cells in dictating ILC metastasis. Mesothelial cells are non-cancerous cells that line all organs of the body and are highly enriched in the abdominal cavity where ILC tumors metastasize to. Her goal is to identify specific mechanisms that mediate metastasis to these unique sites so that therapies can be designed to prevent it.

Congrats to Neil and the lab on their recent paper studying treatment regimens for elderly breast cancer – out now in JAMA Network Open!

Update (7/16/2021): Check out the 21 news stories written on our recent publication!

Led by Neil Carleton with significant contributions from others in the lab (Osama Shah & Fangyuan (Chelsea) Chen), we studied trends of use of two interventions, sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) and radiation therapy (RT), in elderly women with ER+, clinically node-negative breast cancer. Despite two national guidelines recommending against their use, trends of use by surgical oncologists and radiation oncologists remain quite high. We used propensity score matching to control for confounding and biases in retrospective analysis. Significantly, we found that omitting either SLNB or RT was a feasible approach to care and did not compromise recurrence free survival. Our results bolster the existing clinical guidelines recommending for de-implementation of these interventions.

This was a highly collaborative projects with input from authors in biostatistics, radiation oncology, surgical oncology, medical oncology, and specialists in women’s cancer.

Excitingly, this paper received quite a bit of attention in the media and in the field at large! We were thrilled to see Dr. Lee appear on multiple local TV news stations and Dr. McAuliffe making a number of radio appearances!

Link to paper on journal website:

Link to Hillman Cancer Center Press Release press release:

Link to Adrian’s KDKA segment:

Link to Adrian’s WTAE segment:

Congrats to Neil on receiving an excellent (and fundable!) score on his NIH NRSA F30 fellowship award!

Congrats to Neil Carleton on his excellent score on his F30 award application, which is titled, “Promotion of ER+ Breast Cancer Progression in the Elderly.”

Neil will study the intersection of aging and breast cancer: ER+ breast cancer incidence correlates strongly with aging, rising to a peak incidence in women aged 70 years or older (elderly). Owing in large part to the differences in physiologic estrogen signaling and the chronic inflammatory state that develops as people age, ER+ breast cancer that develops in the elderly population exhibits distinct clinical and biologically behavior from ER+ breast cancer in younger cohorts. Intrinsic epigenomic and transcriptomic as well as changes to local breast microenvironment all contribute to a unique landscape for tumor pathogenesis in aged individuals. The interplay and disease-causing roles of these factors requires further investigation.

Neil thanks Dr. Lee, Dr. Oesterreich, and Dr. Xavier for their excellent mentorship – this is the lab’s fourth (!) F30 award received for MD/PhD students!  

Congratulations to fifth year graduate student Zheqi (Vaciry) Li for successfully defending his dissertation!

On April 6th, 2020, Vaciry Li successfully defended his thesis titled “Hotspot ESR1 mutations are contextual and multimodal drives of breast cancer endocrine resistance and metastasis”. This defense was host virtually via zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaciry was a fifth year graduate student from Molecular Pharmacology program and joined the lab in December 2015. He has been working on deciphering the role of ESR1 mutations in breast cancer endocrine resistance and metastasis and have five publications so far during his graduate career. Congratulations Dr. Li!

Congratulations to MD/PhD student Megan Yates for being awarded an NIH F30 Grant!

Megan Yates, MD/PhD Student (Pitt-CMU MSTP), Integrative Systems Biology Program, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

Megan Yates has received an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual Predoctoral NRSA for MD/PhD and other Dual Degree Fellowships F30 for her project “Functional Characterization and Clinical Prevalence of ESR1 Fusions in Advanced Endocrine Resistant Breast Cancer

Congrats to current & former lab members Nilgun Tasdemir and Matthew Sikora for securing independent K99 funding!

Nilgun Tasdemir, Ph.D.

I have been very lucky to carry out my postdoctoral training in the Lee/Oesterreich Lab and I could not imagine a better fit for myself both scientifically and personally. Steffi and Adrian have established a lab at the cutting edge of breast cancer research and recruited many smart and talented people to build a collective intellectual mass that is very conducive to innovative and collaborative research. What is unique in the Lee/Oesterreich lab is that this great scientific environment is coupled with a very warm and welcoming social culture that makes you feel right at home. Based on my prior experience and observations from colleagues elsewhere, this is a rare combination! I moved to Pittsburgh from New York City and I could not have been more pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of its people, the amount of social activities, the quality of life and the affordability it offers compared to big cities. During my time here, Steffi and Adrian have helped me build skills to carry out impactful research, publish scientific articles and secure research funding. They continue to fully support me in my ongoing efforts to become an independent breast cancer researcher. I have no doubt that they will remain as my life-long colleagues and mentors.  

Matthew Sikora, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
University of Colorado Denver

Training in the Lee-Oesterreich Lab: I came to train with Steffi, Adrian, and the WCRC over offers at ‘high profile’ labs because they made me feel like they would go above and beyond in not only helping me grow as a scientist, but helping me learn how to be a principal investigator. This could not have been more true. Steffi and Adrian have a special talent for tailoring their mentorship style toward the needs and goals of their trainees, and they helped me develop as a leader, mentor, manager, and every other hat that a PI must wear. Steffi and Adrian are selfless of their time as mentors, and selfless in promoting our advancement – Steffi never hesitated to let me take the strongest findings from my work with me to build my own lab. Even though I left years ago, they continue to actively mentor me and keep me on the right path as I develop my own research program. Training in the Lee-Oesterreich Lab without a doubt is the reason that I feel capable and confident in my abilities to drive my own lab.

Living in Pittsburgh: I’ll admit, there was skepticism about living in Pittsburgh, and I got a LOT of sideways looks from friends and family after I shared the news. Every pre-conceived notion you have about Pgh is wrong. It’s a beautiful, livable, affordable city with incredible amenities. My wife and I were extremely comfortable in the city on a postdoc + adjunct salary, even after we had  our first child and rolled daycare costs in to the mix. We loved the city both as a young couple and as new parents. It helped that you might not find mentors that are more supportive of families, and of the reality of family life during academic training, than Steffi and Adrian!