Celina Kleer, M.D., honored by AACR, makes history in cancer research

November 18, 2019  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,
Celina Kleer, M.D.

Every year, the American Association for Cancer Research selects one American researcher to recognize for their work which has contributed a new or significant impact on the etiology, detection, diagnosis, treatment or prevention of breast cancer. This prestigious award highlights the most pivotal and game-changing research in the field. 

This year, Michigan Medicine’s very own Celina Kleer, M.D., was honored for her work in generating key insights into the development of aggressive forms of breast cancer and for advancing the characterization of clinical biomarkers and potential therapeutic targets for them.

“I feel very excited and very humbled at the same time,” Kleer said. “My colleagues in the Department of Pathology, the Breast Oncology Program and the Rogel Cancer Center have provided a collegial and supportive environment where I always felt valued.”

Kleer is the Harold A. Oberman Collegiate Professor of Pathology and the co-director of the Breast Pathology Division. She is a physician-scientist who runs a federally-funded research laboratory in the Rogel Cancer Center, and has authored 150 peer-reviewed publications. Kleer has mentored multiple undergraduate and graduate students as well as research and clinical fellows at Michigan Medicine.

As part of the award, Kleer will present a lecture at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium on Dec. 13, titled “Novel non-canonical functions of EZH2 in triple negative breast cancer.”

In the lead-up to her lecture, Headlines caught up with Kleer to discuss her work and what it means to make history at U-M. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: Why did you decide to pursue cancer research as a career?

CK: I have been fascinated with how normal cells become cancerous since I was a medical student. I remember early on in my career spending countless hours looking through the microscope eager to go beyond the pathological features of cancer cells into a deeper understanding of how they became malignant. I realized that my expertise in pathology allowed me to look at cancer through a different, unique perspective. A reason that attracted me to breast cancer research in particular is that despite exciting significant advances, there is a need to understand key mechanisms of invasion and metastasis to enable a cure.

Q: What does it mean to be not only the first U-M faculty member to receive this award but also to win it as a Latina woman?

CK: In my view, science and knowledge do not conform to gender, race or geographic boundaries. Given the opportunities, it is up to each individual to seize them and succeed. I am proud to represent U-M, where I have worked for 25 years, in this light.

Q: You have said that you’ve had three wonderful mentors, Drs. Harold Oberman, Henry Appelman and Sofia Merajver, who have guided you down this path. Can you elaborate on how they’ve helped you over the years?

CK: During my residency, Dr. Oberman supported my interest in breast pathology and instilled an acute awareness of how our pathology diagnosis would impact a patient’s management. Dr. Appelman has shown me the joy of pathology and that being a physician is a lifelong learning journey. Dr. Merajver guided my early academic career into breast cancer research. Her brilliance and passion for understanding breast cancer to save lives has been an inspiration for my work as a physician scientist to this date.