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On International Women’s Day, BCRF Honors the Women Advancing Breast Cancer Research

By BCRF | March 8, 2018

BCRF salutes the achievements of its female investigators.

This year, BCRF is supporting 275 researchers in 15 countries. Our approach is simple: select the brightest minds in breast cancer research and give them the tools they need to make the next breakthrough.

On International Women’s Day, we’re proud to salute our 126 female scientists, which make up 45 percent of our total 2017-18 researcher portfolio.

This ratio isn’t driven by quotas but happens organically by selecting the best scientists in the field.

While space does not allow mention of every outstanding achievement by female BCRF investigators, a sampling of highlights include:

BCRF Scientific Advisory Board

Dr. Judy Garber, Director, Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, BCRF investigator since 2001 and Chair of BCRF’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) since 2016. As the SAB Chair, Dr. Garber plays a crucial role alongside Dr. Larry Norton, Scientific Director in guiding BCRF’s research mission.  She works closely with the other member of the SAB, which includes six other distinguished female investigators, BCRF’s Chief Mission Officer, Dr. Marc Hurlbert and the entire leadership and advisory body of BCRF.

Laboratory Research

Dr. Mina Bissell, Distinguished Scientist, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, San Francisco and BCRF investigator since 2012. Dr. Bissell is a visionary and pioneer in elucidating the role of extracellular matrix–the glue that holds tissue together and the microenvironment in normal mammary gland development and in cancer growth.

Dr. Susan Horwitz, Distinguished University Professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and BCRF investigator since 2007. Dr. Horwitz’s laboratory made Taxol, a drug isolated from the yew plant, Taxus brevifolia, that is given to over a million patients every year.

Dr. Mary Claire King, Professor of Medicine and Genome Sciences, University of Washington and BCRF investigator since 1997. Dr. King was the first to demonstrate that a genetic predisposition for breast cancer exists, as the result of inherited mutations in the gene she named BRCA1.

Translational Research

Dr. Elizabeth Jaffee, Professor of Oncology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 2017-18 President of AACR. BCRF investigator since 2014. An internationally recognized expert in cancer immunology. Her lab has developed novel vaccine approaches for the treatment of pancreatic and breast cancers and new methodologies for identifying vaccine induced T cell and antibody targets.

Dr. Benita Katzenellenbogen, Professor of Molecular and Integrative Biology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and BCRF investigator since 1999. Dr. Katzenellenbogen is internationally known for her work in understanding the biology of estrogen receptors, including the development of selective hormonal agents for breast cancer treatment and prevention.

Clinical Research

Dr. Silvia Formenti, Professor and Chair, Radiation Oncology, Weill Cornell Medical College and BCRF investigator since 2001. Dr. Formenti introduced a paradigm shift in radiation biology by elucidating the role of ionizing radiation on the immune system and demonstrating efficacy of combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy in solid tumors.

Dr. Lisa Carey, Distinguished Professor in Breast Cancer Research, Medical Director, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and BCRF investigator since 2006. Dr. Carey is a clinical scientist and the primary investigator on many clinical trials in breast cancer, including several seminal studies that have altered breast cancer care.

Early Career Awards

Of all the science disciplines, more women are attracted to the field of biology than any other. This creates a natural pipeline for future scientists to sustain the intellectual pool in medical research. Achieving research independence is a critical milestone.

While women make up approximately half of the graduate and post-doctoral scientists and medical school students, their rate of attrition through the academic ranks is discouraging. Women make up 36 percent of assistant professors (typically a tenure-track position), 18 percent of full professors (tenure achieved), and 14 percent of department chairs.

BCRF is proud to support the early careers of young scientists in clinical and laboratory research through our partnerships with organizations like AACR and ASCO. Since 2004, BCRF has supported early career awards to more than 40 young women in science and medicine, helping to provide a solid foundation for them to gain experience, recognition and resources to launch their independent careers in science.

Several women who received BCRF support early in their careers are now BCRF investigators. Many others have moved into successful research careers advancing the science and the clinical management of breast cancer.

Dr. Vered Stearns: ASCO/BCRF Award in 2004-2006. Dr. Stearns is currently a Professor of Oncology, Co-Director, Breast and Ovarian Cancer Program, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a Member of BCRF’s Scientific Advisory Board. Her research utilizes biomarkers to predict response to standard treatment and prevention regimens.

Dr. Elizabeth Comen: ASCO/ BCRF Award in 2011. Dr. Comen is a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center with a practice devoted to the study and treatment of patients with all stages of breast cancer. She collaborates with several laboratories to help translate laboratory discoveries into clinically meaningful treatments for patients at risk for and with metastatic breast cancer.

Dr. Priscilla Brastianos: ASCO/BCRF Award in 2012. Dr. Brastianos is the Director of the Central Nervous System Metastasis Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that drive brain metastases. Her pioneering work has led to national multicenter cooperative group trials that she is leading.

Dr. Alana Welm: University of Utah (AACR Award 2007-2008). Dr. Welm leads a laboratory at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer institute where she focuses on understanding the tumor-host interactions that facilitate metastasis. Her team developed a new laboratory model system to efficiently study breast cancer and metastasis. Dr. Welm is a co-investigator on the BCRF Founder’s Fund PDX project.

Read more about the research of the amazing women BCRF funds on our Meet the Researchers page.