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5 Highlights from BCRF’s Annual Research Retreat

By BCRF | November 21, 2016

Over 200 BCRF scientists gathered to discuss the past, present and future for breast cancer research

BCRF welcomed nearly 200 funded researchers to New York City on October 26 and 27 in celebration of its $57 million commitment to breast cancer research for 2016-2017. The events began with a research retreat for the researchers on October 26, followed the next day by a Symposium and Awards Luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

The annual research retreat, a tradition that began in 2002, has proven extremely popular and was attended this year by scientists traveling to New York from across the U.S. and around the world.

“This meeting grew out of requests from BCRF’s funded researchers for a forum where they could come together to hear about and openly discuss each other’s ongoing and planned research,” said BCRF Scientific Director, Larry Norton, MD. 

“It is both a formal scientific meeting and a safe haven for discourse, just as BCRF research is characterized both by scientific rigor and creative freedom. Numerous collaborations – often from different scientific disciplines – have emanated from the BCRF researcher retreat.”

Below are some important findings our researchers shared during the retreat.

A New Way to Think About Breast Cancer

The theme of this year’s research retreat and symposium focused on the past, present and future of breast cancer. The event featured the groundbreaking work of BCRF investigator and 2016 Jill Rose awardee, Dr. Charles Perou.  In his presentation at the Researcher Retreat, Dr. Perou encapsulated key findings from more than a decade of work that revolutionized how we think about and approach breast cancer. Twenty years ago, breast cancer was thought of as a single disease, but today, thanks to the work by Dr. Perou and his international colleagues and support from BCRF, we know that breast cancer is in fact many distinct diseases.  Read more about Dr. Perou’s work and listen to his podcast.

First International Symposium on Invasive Lobular Cancer

Following on this theme, BCRF investigator, Dr. Steffi Oesterreich shared discussions from the first international symposium on invasive lobular cancer, a rare form of the disease that represents about 15 percent of breast cancers. The symposium, hosted by the University of Pittburgh Cancer Institute and co-sponsored by BCRF, convened scientists and clinicians from the U.S. and Europe to discuss the challenges and priorities of ILC. Patients, advocate and survivors represented about 25 percent of those in attendance and were an integral part of the discussions. Read more about the ILC symposium here.

Advancements for Older Patients Living with Breast Cancer

As our population continues to age and live longer, the percentage of older patients with breast cancer will increase. BCRF investigator, Dr. Hyman Muss, a leader in geriatric oncology, stressed the diverse factors that play into breast cancer outcomes and the current lack of information to inform the appropriate cancer care for elderly patients. His group is studying the effects of an exercise intervention of physical, biologic and psycho-social outcomes in older breast cancer patients and have devised a surrogate index of muscle health that they are testing to see if it can predict toxicity to chemotherapy.

Research Aimed at Empowering Clinicians and Patients

We are fully immersed in an information age that touches every aspect of our lives. While all this data is helping to advance medical science, it also requires a thoughtful reassessment of doctor/patient communication. Patients can become lost in the new cancer lexicon of genomic profiling and clinicians are too often ill equipped to help their patients sort through the risks and benefits of treatment options.

To illustrate, new BRCF investigator, Dame Lesley Fallowfield shared how her BCRF research is aimed at educating both clinicians and patients with the goal of countering the fear and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis with pragmatic and informed discussions that empower patients to make more informed decisions about their care. The impact of this approach can have lasting effects on the patient’s overall experience and cancer outcomes.

Advancing Metastatic Breast Cancer Research

Other highlights from the research retreat included updates on BCRF’s Founder’s Fund initiative from Drs. Martine Piccart and Jorge Reis- Filho, as well as a description of a new Founder’s Fund award to Dr. Nikhil Wagle to study the genomic landscape of metastatic breast cancer in African Americans; a report on the new Drug Research Collaborative from Dr. Antonio Wolff, and a new clinical trial tool to increase patient access to clinical trials presented by Dr. Laura Esserman.

The BCRF research retreat is a unique opportunity for the scientists who comprise BCRF’s diverse research portfolio to come together to discuss important topics and challenges in breast cancer research and care and to strategize innovative ways to move forward.