BCRF was thrilled to return in person to host our annual Scientific Conference this October in New York City. More than half of BCRF’s 255 investigators convened for the event, traveling from across the U.S., Europe, and from as far as Australia.
The scientific conference provided a welcome reprieve from two years of virtual meetings. Researchers—new and veteran—had the chance to catch up with their colleagues, participate in meaningful scientific discussions, and forge new collaborations.
BCRF investigator Dr. Maria Jasin delivered the conference’s keynote lecture as this year’s Jill Rose Award recipient. Dr. Jasin was recognized with BCRF’s highest scientific honor for her outstanding contributions to science—most notably conducting the foundational, basic research that led to game-changing technologies such as CRISPR gene editing.
“This award speaks to the importance of basic research to impact clinical outcomes,” Dr. Jasin said in her lecture.
Dr. Jasin’s research accomplishments have been recognized internationally, and she continues to pursue research to understand how DNA repair processes are perturbed in breast cancer and how they may be manipulated to design novel treatments.
After Dr. Jasin’s lecture, BCRF investigators had the chance to gather in smaller group breakout sessions covering a range of topics in breast cancer: personalized risk and prevention; immunotherapy; novel therapies and biomarkers; new experimental platforms; math oncology and artificial intelligence; disparities; rare subtypes; and the tumor micro/macro environments.
Breakouts fostered more in-depth conversations and gave investigators the opportunity to share their findings, exchange ideas, discuss the status of the field, foster new collaborations, and devise strategies for moving forward.
Conversations at BCRF’s scientific conference and in these breakout sessions have directly influenced research advancements. Based on an idea that came out of last year’s rare breast cancer subtypes breakout session, BCRF recently launched the first-of-its-kind Leigh Pate Living Biorepository of Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh. Those investigators noted that they had discussed plans for developing additional models, publishing their progress, and expanding their working group this year. Another investigator at this year’s meeting noted that an inciteful suggestion made at a breakout session two years ago led to the expansion of their study to add valuable biomarkers they wouldn’t otherwise have included.
One key theme emerged from many of the day’s breakout sessions: the need for better ways to share data within the breast cancer research community.
Investigators noted that data sharing could accelerate biomarker development for breast cancer risk and prevention, treatment, metastasis, and more and save valuable time by enabling them to access validated datasets. To date, no organization or entity has created the needed infrastructure to make all of these breast cancer datasets accessible to the research community at large—but, BCRF has been working on this in the background for the last two years.
This year’s scientific conference thus provided the ideal venue to announce the launch of the BCRF Global Data Hub in coordination with the University of Pittsburgh. The BCRF Global Data hub is a centralized cloud-based portal that will share data from breast cancer laboratory and clinical studies and will provide cutting-edge computational capabilities to analyze mountains of information that currently lacks interconnectivity.
“Existing datasets typically require individual permission for access and as such, exist as stand-alone datasets,” BCRF Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Dorraya El-Ashry said in her remarks. “The global data hub offers the ability to connect datasets in one location to expedite and facilitate new studies across many collaborators.”
Optimizing testing for HER2-low breast cancer
The novel therapies and biomarkers breakout session was abuzz over the outstanding results of DESTINYBreast04, the study that demonstrated Enhertu® was effective in patients with HER2-low breast cancer and highlighted the importance of refining HER2 testing. This opened the door for a frank discussion about the shortcomings of current HER2 testing methods and research that is addressing this issue to ensure the right patients are matched with therapies.
“This trial opened the door to bringing some HER2-directed therapies into the armamentarium of therapies for this HER2-low population, which represents 55 percent of breast cancer diagnoses. And refining HER2 testing is key to expanding their use,” Dr. El-Ashry said.
Improving breast cancer models to enhance results
Researchers are constantly seeking to develop laboratory models to predict risk or inform treatment decisions. The importance of better models was stressed in several sessions.
Researchers discussed how:
The disparities breakout session yielded a renewed commitment among BCRF investigators to address inequities experienced by people of color. Investigators stressed the need for collaboration across the care continuum—from access to preventive care to survivorship.
Robust discussions covered strategies to move forward, such as a global collective effort to incorporate culturally relevant questions in clinical trial recruitment. In combination with other trial data, this added information would help investigators delineate factors related to disparate clinical care—and potentially reveal ways to counteract them. Several BCRF-funded projects are addressing the persistent problem of disparities in breast cancer care.
The conference’s lively discussions reflected a productive year in breast cancer research and yielded strategies for exploration over the next year. BCRF looks forward to hosting another constructive scientific conference in 2023 and continuing to foster meaningful connections and opportunities for collaboration among our 255 investigators.
“A core commitment of BCRF’s research mission is to foster collaboration,” Dr. El-Ashry said. “This is the spirit in which the scientific conference was established, and I’m thrilled this year’s conference was a testament to that commitment.”
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