La Jolla Researcher Funded by Susan G. Komen, Dr. Svasti Haricharan, Working on Treatment Innovation for Metastatic Breast Cancer

Svasti Haricharan, Ph.D., a La Jolla-based researcher funded by Susan G. Komen, is working on a breast cancer treatment innovation that could save the lives of countless metastatic breast cancer patients.

Metastatic (stage IV) breast cancer is the most advanced stage of breast cancer, which does not yet have a cure. Breast cancer is classified as “metastatic” once it has spread to other parts of the body, often to the brain, bones, liver, and lungs. It is estimated that over 154,000 women are currently living with metastatic breast cancer in the United States, and metastatic breast cancer is responsible for almost all of the 42,000+ breast cancer deaths in the U.S. annually.

According to Sanford Burnham Prebys, nearly twenty percent of breast cancer patients who do not respond to standard breast cancer treatments have a mutation in their DNA. This mutation is a defect in their DNA’s repair machinery, which causes DNA copy errors to not be corrected during normal cell division. Thus, this copy error can continue to replicate and cause breast cancer to develop and spread.

The Haricharan Lab, based locally at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, is working with medical oncologist Rebecca Shatsky, M.D., of UC San Diego Health to identify breast cancer samples which have this mutation, then test these samples against thousands of FDA-approved treatments.

“There are many kinds of breast cancer, and we have lots of different treatments for breast cancer,” said Dr. Haricharan. “What we don’t always know is which treatment is right for which kind of breast cancer. My lab is working on making those matches.”

A vital member of the Haricharan Lab is Karen McDonald, a metastatic breast cancer patient in San Diego who serves as Dr. Haricharan’s patient advocate. All of Komen’s researchers are required to have a patient advocate in their labs. Karen and Dr. Haricharan met at Komen San Diego’s 2nd Annual Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference when Karen voiced her concerns about the affordability of some of the treatment options to an expert panel that Dr. Haricharan was a member of.

Since then, Karen has been an invaluable asset to the Haricharan Lab and helps ensure that the treatments studied will be as affordable as possible, with the least amount of side effects.


“I am tremendously grateful to be a part of the revolutionary research of the Haricharan Lab,” said Karen. “Dr. Haricharan and her research team are tirelessly working to save my life and the lives of thousands of other San Diegans surviving with metastatic breast cancer. We are going to beat this. We will win.”

Susan G. Komen San Diego is proud to fund local, San Diego-based researchers like Dr. Haricharan who are on the cutting edge of breast cancer research.

To learn more about the work that is done in the Haricharan Lab, click here.