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Four years into her Jefferson residency, Allison Goldberg, MD, is spending a productive year in the lab of Kimmel Cancer Center researcher Michael Lisanti, MD, PhD. Over the past decade, Dr. Lisanti, the Margaret Q. Landenberger Professor in Breast Cancer Research and Chair of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Jefferson, has been the 13th most-cited biochemist and biologist in the scientific literature.

Most of Dr. Lisanti’s research redefines the long-held Warburg Effect hypothesis, which postulated that a change in cellular metabolism—that is, an increased level of glycolysis (the conversion of glucose into energy)—causes cancer. Since 2009 Dr. Lisanti has researched what he calls the Reverse Warburg Effect, proposing that glycolysis occurs in stromal fibroblasts (connective tissue cells) near the tumor and not in the tumor cells themselves. This significantly impacts our understanding of how tumors develop.

Dr. Goldberg is working with animal models to alter the glucose-making pathways of the fibroblasts, to evaluate if those alterations affect the size and weight of tumors from triple negative forms of breast cancer. Triple negative breast cancers are so named because they lack the three crucial receptors to which today’s most successful molecularly targeted drugs attach. She is also genetically manipulating fibroblasts, to turn on and off autophagy (cell self-digestion). “We are hoping this research will lead to new targeted drug therapies,” says Dr. Goldberg.

Dr. Lisanti notes that having a surgical resident in his lab is a great asset. “Dr. Goldberg is a gifted surgeon who helps us see our work in new, more clinically relevant ways,” he says.

Dr. Goldberg reflects, “In the OR, every step is scripted and rehearsed. There is no margin for error. In the lab, I’m free to pursue an idea and just see what happens. It’s been refreshing and rewarding,” she says. Dr. Goldberg is expecting twins in June and will return to her clinical responsibilities later this summer.