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Sylvan Baca, MD, PhD

Sylvian Baca PFTM20
Postdoctoral Fellowship in Translational Medicine, 2020 Dana Farber Cancer Institute

Detecting Mutational Signatures from Circulating Prostate Cancer DNA


Prostate cancer claims the lives of roughly 33,000 men in the United States every year. PARP inhibitors (PARPis) and immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) are promising treatments for prostate cancer. These medicines can be very effective against certain prostate cancers that cannot properly repair damage to their DNA. Unfortunately, to determine if these medicines are likely to help a given patient, it is often necessary to biopsy prostate cancer that has spread to the bones. These biopsies can be technically challenging and uncomfortable for patients. To address these difficulties, this project will develop a blood test to predict whether a patient’s prostate cancer is likely to respond to PARPis and ICIs. It will take advantage of a promising new technology that can detect trace amounts of cancer DNA in the blood. By looking for specific patterns of mutations in cancer DNA present in blood, the test aims to identify cancers with defective DNA repair that may respond to treatment with PARPis or ICIs. This advance could identify thousands of patients who could benefit from PARPis or ICIs, while sparing those who will not respond from treatment side effects.

The PhRMA Foundation’s support has been crucial to my career as a physician scientist. Receiving the Postdoctoral Fellowship in Translational Medicine allowed me to launch an independent research career dedicated to improving treatments for cancer. I am honored and grateful for the Foundation’s support.

Sylvan Baca