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BCRF Researchers Talk Progress and Prevention at Boston Hot Pink

By BCRF | October 29, 2014

BCRF returns to Boston to host its annual October fundraiser

On October 24, BCRF held its fourth annual Hot Pink Luncheon & Symposium in Boston. Attended by more than 225 supporters, the event raised $250,000 to fund grantees from New England’s renowned medical institutions, such as Harvard Medical School, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and noteworthy others. Since awarding our first round of grants in 1994, BCRF has committed more than $53 million to support to New England scientists at the forefront of breast cancer research. 

The event—organized by honorary chair Nancy Kelleher and co-chairs Stephanie Andrews, Andrea Brooks, Katherine Chapman, Karen Hale, Deb Hoffman and Simone Winston—began with a touching tribute to Darby Stott, a dedicated BCRF supporter who lost her battle against metastatic breast cancer in September. After an initial diagnosis at 40 and subsequent metastasis, Stott became a stalwart supporter of research. Though cancer would take her life, she never gave up her fight, her dignity or her grace. In honor of her memory and her belief that research will lead to a cure, BCRF named one of its 2014 grants, awarded to Dr. Alan D’Andrea, the Darby Stott award. 

Dr. Clifford Hudis, Chairman of BCRF’s Scientific Advisory Board, opened the symposium by  thanking the attendees for their continued generosity. These donations are more critical than ever, he noted, as federal funding cuts have reduced the National Institutes of Health’s spending power by 25 percent. The NIH is the nation’s largest funder of medical research, and this decrease in federal funding has resulted a lack of resources for investment in bold new ventures, making it difficult, if not impossible, for researchers to pursue ideas that may lead to the next breakthrough. BCRF’s unique approach to grantmaking allows leading scientists to forge ahead with game-changing research that, while risky, has the potential to significantly impact patient outcomes.

Drs. Nancy Lin and Andrea Richardson joined Dr. Hudis for the discussion on “Progress and Prevention” as the audience asked questions about prevention in terms of breast cancer metastasis. While advances in early detection and the development of more targeted therapies have improved survival rates of breast cancer, metastasis—the spread of breast cancer to other organs—remains the leading cause of breast cancer deaths and the next frontier in research. There is still much to learn about why some tumors metastasize and spread to specific organs and why some cancers are resistant to treatment or seem to disappear completely only to re-emerge years later. 

Drs. Hudis, Lin and Richardson talked about the ongoing efforts of BCRF’s Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund, an international research initiative focused exclusively on metastasis. There are many practical and technical challenges in studying metastasis because no two tumors are alike. The Founder’s Fund is helping to address those challenges by focusing not only on how to treat metastasis but also prevent it. 

Lifestyle modifications, which are generally associated with primary prevention, may also play a role in stopping cancer from spreading. Obesity is known to increase the risk of breast cancer after menopause and is associated with poorer outcomes in breast cancer at any age. Fat cells release inflammatory molecules and are a source of estrogen, both of which promote tumor growth that may lead to metastasis. The American Association of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recently released guidelines for oncologists on advising their breast cancer patients on how to lose weight. Dr. Hudis, whose research is focused on this very topic, noted that even a 10 percent reduction in weight could have significant impact on outcomes.  

Our researchers are working tirelessly on stopping cancer in its tracks, but, as Dr. Hudis emphasized, achieving prevention will also require the greater public’s support. Approaching breast cancer as a public health concern like heart disease would include improved risk assessment and increased awareness of individual risk, as well as regular monitoring and screening for risk, which could include nationwide screening for genetic risks and biomarkers to indicate a level of risk. The prevention of breast cancer, recurrence and metastasis is a fundamental component of BCRF’s mission, with approximately one-third of our research grants addressing these critical issues.