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BCRF Launches Lobular Breast Cancer Biobank with Gift from Late Advocate Leigh Pate

By BCRF | August 3, 2022

Will be first living biorepository dedicated to this understudied form of breast cancer

BCRF joins the lobular breast cancer community in mourning the loss of patient advocate Leigh Pate, who passed away on June 25 at the age of 55. Leigh was a tireless champion for research into this form of the disease in the years after she was diagnosed in 2013.

The Foundation is deeply honored to help further Leigh’s legacy of advocacy and research. At the end of her life, Leigh made it possible for BCRF to establish the Leigh Pate Living Biorepository of Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. Her gift also endowed the repository—ensuring that it is maintained and expanded for years to come.

This first-of-its-kind repository will be overseen by BCRF investigators Drs. Steffi Oesterreich, Adrian Lee, and Jorge Reis-Filho. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, Magee-Womens Research Institute, and the Institute of Precision Medicine in Pittsburgh will house lobular tumor organoids, images, and data from both the organoids and corresponding tumors that researchers across the globe can tap into for studies and trials.

As a patient advocate, Leigh understood that breast cancer researchers need better models and data on invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC; also known as invasive lobular breast cancer) to improve detection and treatment for this form of breast cancer. With this biorepository, Leigh has helped ensure that the scientific community has access to models that faithfully represent the disease.

Though it is the second-most common form of breast cancer—accounting for 10 to 15 percent of invasive breast cancer diagnoses and affecting nearly 40,000 people each year—ILC has long been understudied and misunderstood. ILC presents differently, which can make it more difficult to detect by traditional screening and self-exam.

In just the last few years, research has shown that ILC is its own distinct subtype of breast cancer and that, in addition to not responding as well to standard treatments, it may also metastasize in unusual ways. Leigh herself once perfectly described being a patient undergoing treatment for lobular breast cancer as “being the square peg as it’s pounded into the round hole.”

Simultaneously, as our understanding of ILC has improved, technology has enabled researchers to develop 3D models from ILC cells or tumors. Now, with ready access to established models through the new Living Biorepository of Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer, investigators will save valuable research time and money—no doubt accelerating progress for this disease.

After her diagnosis, Leigh became committed to achieving better outcomes for future generations diagnosed with ILC. After learning that ILC needed more research at the first BCRF-supported International Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer Symposium in Pittsburgh in 2016, she spearheaded a new patient advocacy group: the Lobular Breast Cancer Alliance (LBCA) launched in 2017.

“Leigh was tremendously generous with everything—her time, resources, and energy. Her ability to bring people together with a common goal led to lobular breast cancer being recognized as a unique disease that deserves further research, and it initiated many national and international collaborations among researchers, clinicians, and advocates,” said Oesterreich, who, along with her husband and research partner, Adrian Lee, became a close friend and collaborator of Leigh’s.

“Every advance in breast cancer outcomes has come from research, and this legacy will accelerate lobular research through generation of models and data and help patients with ILC in the future,” Lee said.

Among so many other accomplishments, Leigh played an integral role in making the LBCA website a reliable and accurate resource for people with ILC; convened LBCA members and fellow leaders; and wrote scientific manuscripts and white papers on how patient advocates, researchers, and clinicians could improve outcomes and propel ILC research forward.

LBCA Executive Director Laurie Hutcheson described Leigh as a “shining star for women with lobular breast cancer” who will continue to make an indelible mark.

“She had already given so many of us hope and tools for promoting ILC research with the founding of LBCA,” she said. “Now, with this gift for a biorepository, she has created a critical resource that will help accelerate ILC research. We miss her support and inspiration but are grateful to all she has left us to help eradicate lobular breast disease.”

In addition to her years of advocacy, Leigh worked as a public affairs consultant on national, state, and local issues and campaigns, and she was known for her writing and photography. An avid outdoorswoman and world traveler, she visited all seven continents.

Leigh leaves behind not only loving family and friends, but an outstanding impact on research that will reverberate for years through this new effort. 

“Her contributions to lobular breast cancer advocacy have affected thousands of patients and their families, and this number will only continue to grow,” Oesterreich said. “We are very lucky to have had her in the breast cancer advocacy world.”

If you wish to honor Leigh with a gift to lobular breast cancer research, visit this fundraising page.