Science, surgery, and start-ups - in depth with Dr. Nancy DeMore
Dr. DeMore is an associate professor of surgery at UNC and a member of the UNC Breast Center. With Cam Patterson, MD, MBA, she co-founded Enci Therapeutics, Inc., a start-up company that is developing a monoclonal antibody therapy for cancer that works by blocking the growth of blood vessels that tumors need to grow, a process called angiogenesis.
She has studied angiogenesis since her undergraduate days at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. After earning her medical degree from the University of Health Sciences, Chicago Medical School and completing her internship and residency at Boston University, Dr. DeMore completed a surgical research fellowship in the lab of renowned physician-scientist Judah Folkman, MD, of Children’s Hospital Boston, who pioneered the field of angiogenesis.
Dr. DeMore came to UNC 10 years ago. “I was truly amazed at the opportunities at UNC. What I like about UNC is that the people I work with- medical and radiation oncologists and radiologists - all have strong research interests. Everyone is trying to move the field forward. I have been very happy here.”
She began working with Dr. Cam Patterson on reasons why blockade of VEGF, a protein that is very important in tumor angiogenesis, does not completely halt tumor growth. The drug Avastin neutralizes VEG-F., Although Avastin is effective, there are still many patients who don’t respond to it, and of those that respond, many tumors ultimately become resistant.
“We thought there were probably other angiogenesis factors that continue to stimulate tumor growth, even when VEG-F is being blocked, so we began to look for novel angiogenesis targets.” Using molecular techniques they developed, they found a number of genes that were highly expressed in tumors, but not in normal cells.
“With an Innovations grant from the University Cancer Research Fund, we developed an antibody that in the lab neutralizes SFRP2 in triple-negative breast cancer and angiosarcoma, a rare cancer of blood vessels. To do the necessary testing and refine the antibody, we formed Enci Therapeutics. It’s encouraging to have the University be supportive of faculty start-up companies.”
When she’s not in the clinic or the lab, Dr. DeMore delights in her family. She and her husband, Ed, a retired Air Force Master Sergeant, have a daughter, and her mother lives in the Chapel Hill area. Her father, a longtime internist and role model for Dr. DeMore, died in 2011 at the age of 102. The microscope used in the video of Dr. DeMore belonged to her father.
She cites the support of her family and her lab members as key to her ability to manage so many responsibilities. “You cannot do science alone. Their support is critical.”