Fred Hutch metastatic breast cancer researcher gets 3-year Komen grant

Dr. Kevin Cheung’s work focuses on shutting down tumor cell clusters which seed new metastases
photo of Kevin Chung
Metastatic breast cancer researcher Dr. Kevin Cheung (pictured here with patient advocate Dr. Kelly Shanahan at the 2017 Northwest Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference) received a career catalyst research grant from Susan G. Komen specifically designed to fund research on new approaches for metastatic breast cancer. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

Fred Hutch metastatic breast cancer researcher Dr. Kevin Cheung has just received a Career Catalyst Research (CCR) Grant from Susan G. Komen.

The grant, specifically designed to fund new approaches to combat metastatic breast cancer, comes with $450,000 to support Cheung’s work for three years. Cheung is also a breast cancer oncologist with the Hutch’s clinical care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

“It’s a real honor to have received this,” Cheung said. “It’s very important to make things better for metastatic patients.”

Cheung’s previous research has shown that tumor cells travel as clusters throughout all stages of metastasis, led by a protein called keratin 14. These clusters break off from early stage tumors and travel through the lymph system or bloodstream to organs like the liver or lungs, where they create new tumors. He’s also shown that these clusters express, or produce, high levels of adhesion proteins which he believes are important for the clusters’ signaling and survival.

“Circulating tumor cells are detected in many breast cancer patients,” he said. “And their frequency rises as patients progress on treatment. Therapies targeting circulating tumor cell clusters could potentially offer a new way forward for metastatic patients with the highest burden of disease and the fewest remaining treatment options.”

The three-year Komen CCR award will allow Cheung to conduct a preclinical study designed to prevent metastasis by eradicating tumor cell clusters.  

“Tumor cell clusters are physically hardy and drug resistant, making them excellent at seeding new metastases,” he said. “But what if we could break them apart? Could we stop metastasis in its tracks? This is the core research question being asked in this project.”

Cheung hopes to stop the clusters’ spread by identifying new therapeutic compounds to disrupt their integrity.

SAVE THE DATE: Cheung will be discussing his research at the Northwest Metastatic (and Lobular) Breast Cancer conference Friday and Saturday, October 26 and 27, in Seattle. The conference is free to patients but registration is required. 

“I’m happy to be working with the local Komen Puget Sound community to advance our research mission and to be collaborating on this exciting project with leaders in the breast cancer field,” he said.

Cheung will be working with Fred Hutch Clinical Research Division Director Dr. Nancy Davidson, as lead mentor, and Public Health Sciences Division epidemiologist and breast cancer researcher Dr. Christopher Li, as co-investigator.

Susan G. Komen announced Cheung’s grant on Tuesday as part of a national $26 million grant investment that will fund 62 new research projects specifically targeting solutions to aggressive and metastatic breast cancers. The grants include:

  • 40 grants (representing 70 percent of the grants awarded) to drug resistance and metastasis
  • 23 grants to work on triple-negative breast cancer
  • 38 grants toward new treatments (such as immunotherapies, which received 9 grants)
  • 8 grants to tackle breast cancer health disparities

Komen’s career catalyst research grants are awarded to promising breast cancer researchers in the early stages of their career in order to provide them with three years of “protected time.” 

Since joining Fred Hutch in 2015, Cheung has received several accolades, including the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Scientists; the Athena Endowed Award for Excellence in Breast Cancer Research; a V Foundation Scholar Grant in 2017 and a Department of Defense Era of Hope Scholar Award earlier this year.

Cheung was also quick to praise the breast cancer patient advocates who have worked with him to develop his project.

“I would like to especially thank Courtney Preusse for all of her hard work and the support she’s shown my research,” he said.

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. She has written extensively about health issues for NBC News, TODAY, CNN, MSN, Seattle Magazine and other publications. A breast cancer survivor, she blogs at and tweets @double_whammied. Email her at Just diagnosed and need information and resources? 

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