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BCRF Welcomes Dorraya El-Ashry as New Chief Scientific Officer
Dr. El-Ashry shares how her personal connection to the cause inspired her to join BCRF.
Dorraya El-Ashry knew since grade school she wanted to be a cancer scientist. By the time she was in college, she found her calling. After the mothers of two of her best friends died from metastatic breast cancer, she decided to pursue a career to help other families avoid a similar fate. During her post-doctoral fellowship, her decision was further cemented when her 39-year-old aunt was diagnosed and later died from metastatic breast cancer.
“I’ll never forget how those experiences inspired me to find a cure for breast cancer,” Dorraya said.
Recently Dorraya joined BCRF as Chief Scientific Officer where she will lead its multi-million-dollar grant program.
“BCRF funding is one of the major reasons we have seen major leaps forward in breast cancer research,” she says. “I’m thrilled to join the team in identifying, supporting and highlighting the most innovative ideas in science.”
For nearly three decades Dorraya has been a breast cancer researcher who worked on better understanding the estrogen receptor. Her lab identified reasons why certain breast tumors lost estrogen receptor expression and found ways to restore it in order to improve responses to anti-estrogen therapies.
While most of her work was performed in the lab, she never lost sight of the breast cancer patients she was trying to help.
“One of the major hallmarks of my training was the idea to investigate clinically important questions,” Dorraya said. “While I started in basic science, I shifted to translational research. This gave me the opportunity to collaborate with my clinical colleagues to bring these findings to clinical trials.”
As her career developed, Dorraya turned her research focus towards metastatic breast cancer – specifically studying the normal cells that surround, support, and drive many of the aggressive behaviors of cancer cells. She and her colleagues discovered that these cells move along with circulating tumor cells in patient blood and play important roles in breast cancer metastasis.
“We discovered that when cancer cells travel, they take their tumor environment with them – ‘normal’ cells and all,” she says. “In the future, identifying these cells in patients may help clinicians determine who is at risk of developing metastasis.”
While her lab continues to pursue this path, Dorraya’s new role at BCRF will give her the opportunity to support other breast cancer researchers with their groundbreaking ideas.
“Since my whole career has been in research, I’m well aware of the challenges of getting out-of-the-box ideas published and funded,” she says. “Without BCRF support, these concepts would never get the opportunity to become the breakthroughs we see today.”
For Dorraya, her passion for breast cancer research stems from her personal connection to the cause. Since becoming a scientist, her grandmother, friends and colleagues have been impacted by the disease. This experience inspired her move to lead BCRF’s grants program, with metastatic breast cancer research funding as a top priority.
“BCRF has been a leader in metastatic breast cancer research and I believe it’s important to keep this field at the forefront,” she says. This includes funding research to understand every aspect of the metastatic process – from how cells leave the primary tumor to how they set up shop in another organ and grow as a metastatic tumor, she adds.
“I believe understanding the biology of one process can inform the understanding of many processes,” she says. “Discovering how breast cancer metastasis develops will lead to its effective prevention and treatment. It will also inform our understanding of metastasis in many types of cancer.” she says.
In her role at BCRF, Dorraya will also work closely with the Scientific Advisory Board to strengthen the annual grants program as well as set the scientific vision each year.
“I wouldn’t have left my academic career to come to a place other than the Breast Cancer Research Foundation,” she says. “BCRF’s model is based on supporting people and their bright ideas. That’s integral to changing the future of breast cancer.”