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Highlights from BCRF’s 2023 Annual Scientific Conference

By BCRF | December 12, 2023

Investigators convene to share and discuss impactful advances in breast cancer research

BCRF was delighted to host our annual scientific conference this October in New York City. Over 150 of our investigators from across the U.S., Europe, and Australia came together at The New York Bar Association, which provided a beautiful and unique venue for researchers to connect with colleagues, participate in breakout sessions covering a range of topics, and share and discuss their recent findings. 

The response to this year’s event was highly enthusiastic, with many investigators mentioning that the information shared in the sessions would inform their own work and lead to future collaborations.

Below are just some of the high points of the conference as well as reactions from the researchers.

Dr. Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Olopade received The Jill Rose Award for Scientific Excellence

BCRF honored Dr. Funmi Olopade with the Jill Rose Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to breast cancer research. She is globally renowned as an expert in risk assessment and individualized treatment for the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. Her work has advanced early detection, treatment, and prevention of breast cancer in women at high risk for the disease.

In her lecture, Dr. Olopade talked about her focus on “inclusive excellence” throughout her career. She shared how untethered support from BCRF allowed her to expand her genetic studies and pursue unique research probing the root causes of breast cancer in Black women from both Nigeria and the U.S. Dr. Olopade’s research has deepened our understanding and helped narrow the disparities gap in treatment outcomes for Black women. She continues to work to personalize surveillance for breast cancer and to achieve her lifelong goal of closing the disparity gap for breast cancer patients in underserved areas. 

“BCRF’s support over the years has been so amazing in not just helping us develop clinical trials in Nigeria but also training people there to conduct trials,” said Dr. Olopade. “Today, the aggressive breast cancer that was not treatable is suddenly treatable, and women are surviving. This never would have been possible without that first grant from BCRF.”

Breakout sessions sparked lively discussions

BCRF breakout sessions have become an integral part of the scientific conference. They afford investigators the opportunity to gather in smaller group sessions covering a range of topics in breast cancer. Subject areas include 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.

These smaller group interactions help foster more in-depth conversations and give investigators the opportunity to share their findings, exchange ideas, discuss the status of the field, initiate new collaborations, and devise strategies for moving forward.

For example, past scientific conferences led investigators in “Rare Breast Cancer Subtypes” to form a fruitful collaboration that led to the development of the first-ever global registry for invasive lobular breast cancer (ILC). Dr. Christine Desmedt also pointed out that BCRF’s 2022 retreat was the catalyst for the first ILC meeting in Leuven, Belgium, which provided a vehicle for experts in this type of breast cancer to maintain ongoing collaborations. 

At this year’s gathering, a major topic of discussion regarded best practices for diagnosing ILC, particularly the potential advantage of utilizing artificial intelligence to decrease the subjective nature of a pathologist’s diagnosis. Dr. Stuart Schnitt discussed a role for AI in the diagnosis of rare forms of breast cancer and noted that more remains to be done to determine the proper parameters to develop an efficient AI algorithm. Additional topics relevant to LBC and other rare breast cancers were discussed, and the group made plans for follow-up collaborations. 

Math oncology presentation wowed the audience

One of the highlights occurred in the “Math Oncology” breakout session where Dr. Larry Norton captivated the audience with a lively discussion of the evolution of mathematical modeling in breast cancer. The audience was enraptured as he discussed the evolution of mathematical modeling in breast cancer. He summarized his talk by positing that maybe treatments not only kill cancer cells but also alter their environment to drive down their growth curve over a long term, which led to a robust exchange of ideas.  

Other hot topics

Presenters at the “Disparities” breakout session discussed a wide variety of research aimed at addressing disparities in outcomes for people of color. One conversation centered around the impact of a patient’s neighborhood and environment—both social determinants of health elements—on their breast cancer, including delays in time to treatment and access to quality breast cancer care. Other presenters discussed analyses of genetic and tumor biology elements and still others shared an analytical strategy that could provide a novel vantage point from which to view the root causes of disparities.  

“Particularly in the area of disparities, many important points were brought up which could help with the programs at [my] center,” stated one investigator. 

Just as the patient’s macroenvironment influences outcomes from breast cancer, so too does the tumor microenvironment. In the “Tumor macro/microenvironments” breakout session, presenter Dr. Adrian Harris described his research to develop a new technology for attacking breast cancer cells specifically and leveraging the immune components in the tumor microenvironment to defeat cancer. This technology was met with great interest as the audience discussed its many advantages.

Novel strategies  

Researchers are always exploring ways to improve the efficacy of existing treatments while developing novel therapies and expanding experimental platforms and techniques. BCRF’s scientific conference afforded them the opportunity to share their progress. Attendees were enthusiastic about the presentations at this year’s breakouts. 

In the “Novel Therapies and Biomarkers” session, Dr. Hyman Muss’s presentation on chemotherapy effects on a biomarker of aging met with great interest among the attendees. Fellow BCRF investigators were intrigued by his results and posed many questions for discussion. Indeed, his presentation sparked ideas for his colleagues to use in their own projects and helped initiate collaborations to build on his observations. 

“We heard a variety of presentations on the application of novel technologies to current BCRF projects. Very informative and helpful to my own research,” said one investigator.

Immunotherapy

The breakout session focused on immunotherapy resulted in an engaging back and forth as researchers discussed strategies to improve its use in breast cancer. One strategy depends on the integration of targeted therapy and immunotherapy. In fact, the results of these studies were recently reported in the journal Nature, and investigators had a series of probing questions that opened up a lively debate.

In addition, the presentations at the “Personalized risk and prevention” and “Experimental platforms” breakouts sparked several ideas as attendees commented:

“Potentially incorporating novel imaging and technologies into our clinical trials.”

“Inspired me to consider using the new sequencing techniques.” 

These are but snippets of the interchanges that occurred at this year’s scientific conference. These discussions reflected a productive year in breast cancer research and hold promise for advancements to be made over the next year.

Key takeaways

As a direct result of this year’s scientific conference, researchers made new connections and formulated plans for collaborating with other BCRF investigators. Over two-thirds of the investigators in attendance reported they were inspired to begin a new collaboration, and over 85 percent said they came away with ideas to implement in their own research. This includes sharing tools or models, performing parallel studies, initiating new lines of study, or incorporating additional analyses or novel technologies to further their ongoing studies—all spurred by a presentation or a follow-up discussion that was made possible by the scientific conference. 

A few attendees shared these comments:

“Numerous excellent and provocative presentations.”

“I’m following up with several investigators about potential projects.”

“[I’m] getting reagents from another PI [principal investigator], and I made great connections!”

“[There’s the] possibility of pooling studies with others.”

“The best part of these sessions is being able to speak with colleagues in a relaxed way, without literally thousands of other people vying for attention.”

BCRF is proud that our investigators look forward to this well-attended conference with enthusiasm. Indeed, most attendees were thrilled that we extended the time for the conference and breakout sessions, saying they immensely enjoyed the dedicated time with fellow BCRF investigators. It is this spirit that propels the conference and undergirds BCRF’s mission: fostering collaboration to accelerate breast cancer research.  

“I feel that I am building more and more connections with other BCRF investigators because of the scientific conference,” one investigator said. “It really provides a sense of belonging to a group of scientists and physicians with a shared vision of curing breast cancer.” 

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