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No Time For Complacency: Advanced Breast Cancer Calls For Advanced Research
Myra Biblowit, President of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation
There’s nothing more important than stopping breast cancer in its tracks. But what people don’t always understand is that, if detected early, breast cancer can often be controlled. It’s when the disease spreads, or metastasizes, that it turns lethal. One in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime but, for nearly 30 percent of them, the cancer will metastasize.
Today, an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 women and men are living with metastatic breast cancer in the U.S. alone. Many people believe that advanced breast cancer is curable if diagnosed early, but the sad truth is that the median survival after a metastatic diagnosis is only three years.
While there has been significant progress in early detection and treatment for primary breast cancer, advances in treatment and prevention of metastasis are lagging behind. It’s a wily disease that works in mysterious ways. Metastatic cancer cells can lie dormant for years, even decades, only to “wake up” and find their way into different parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, brain or bones.
How to circumvent and stop metastasis is the most pressing question in cancer medicine today. And it’s one the Breast Cancer Research Foundation is trying to answer.
In 2012, BCRF dedicated $27 million to launch the Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund, a multi-year, multi-institutional international collaboration focused exclusively on unraveling the mysteries of metastasis. The Founder’s Fund seeks to understand what makes the disease tick, why some breast cancers spread while others do not, and how to use this knowledge to predict, treat and even prevent metastasis. Our aim is to get to the heart of this under-researched matter to improve outcomes of real people in real time.
Under the direction of our Scientific Director Dr. Larry Norton and Chairman of our Scientific Advisory Board Dr. Clifford Hudis, the Founder’s Fund brings together BCRF’s world-class investigators in an unprecedented effort to dissect the molecular basis of metastasis. To accelerate advances in understanding the disease, the project will:
- Identify changes in molecular and genetic markers that occur when breast cancers metastasize;
- Follow individual patients to see how the molecular markers in their metastases change over time;
- Perform comprehensive analyses of metastases being treated with medicines that target specific molecular changes.
The Founder’s Fund will tackle these objectives through a two-pronged research enterprise, known as AURORA, in Europe and North America: AURORA EU is based in Belgium and led by Dr. Martine Piccart-Gebhart of the Institut Jules Bordet through the Breast International Group, and AURORA US is spearheaded by Dr. Nancy Davidson of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute through the North American Breast Cancer Group and the Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium (TBCRC).
Through AURORA EU, BCRF investigators are conducting precise molecular analyses of primary and metastatic breast cancer samples to better understand the evolution of metastasis and the mechanisms of drug resistance that allow tumors to grow and spread. Our grantees are working to identify tumor markers in cancer patients’ blood that could be used as a non-invasive test to determine tumor progression and response to treatment.
In AURORA US, BCRF researchers are utilizing the TBCRC’s extensive clinical trial infrastructure for clinical trial development and molecular and pathological evaluation of metastatic breast cancer samples. Efforts will include the development of an experimental model system that precisely mimics human breast metastases in a laboratory setting. The system will use patient tumor cells to evaluate the effect of specific gene mutations on drug response and tumor development.
Through the Founder’s Fund, we expect to collect and analyze thousands of cases of metastatic breast cancer and to make that data available for future research by investigators around the globe. Collaboration has long been a tenet of BCRF, allowing us to make critical headway in cancer research. Last year, we became a founding member of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance, joining forces with a number of other organizations dedicated to addressing the challenges of advanced disease. Following an initial investment of $5 million to launch the Founder’s Fund last year, BCRF committed another $11.6 million in 2014 to continue to support the under-funded area of metastasis.
We are 100-percent committed to tackling advanced breast cancer and hope that this research will open doors and provide insight to other kinds of metastatic disease. At BCRF, research has always been our mission and saving lives our ultimate goal.
This article was originally published on Huffington Post.