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SABCS 2016: BCRF Investigators Honored at SABCS

By BCRF | December 13, 2016

BCRF investigators are recognized for their incredible contributions to breast cancer research

BCRF joins the research community in congratulating its longtime investigators on four SABCS awards. Drs. Eric Winer, Charles Perou, Max Wicha, and Fergus Couch received honors for their distinctive careers and lifelong contributions to breast cancer research.

Dr. Eric Winer, MD, Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and BCRF investigator since 2003, was selected as the 2016 William L. McGuire Memorial Lecturer. Dr. Winer was honored for his excellence and leadership in clinical research, his outstanding contributions in education and mentorship of young physicians, and his renowned skills as a breast cancer clinician. In his lecture, titled "The Long and Winding Road: Glancing Back, But Moving Forward," Dr. Winer reflected on where breast cancer research and treatments have come in the last 25 years. He recounted that even as recently as the early 1990's, breast cancer treatments were limited and came with high toxicity. Patients were often uninformed and scared, and the patient advocacy movement was in its infancy. Today, treatments are far more individualized and based on disease characteristics, tumor stage, and patient preference. Despite our progress, Dr. Winer highlighted three major challenges facing today's oncologists and their patients: therapy resistance, overtreatment, and health equity. Therapy resistance continues to be a leading cause of breast cancer deaths in developed countries. Overtreatment may not result in mortality, but continues to adversely affect quality of life. Health equity is a major problem worldwide that results in countless unnecessary deaths. Race, poverty, lack of education, and lack of health insurance are just some of the causes in the US. Dr. Winer closed with a personal story of his experiences as a beneficiary of medical research. It was a touching reminder of how important research is and the impact it can have on people.

Dr. Charles Perou, PhD, Professor of Molecular Oncology, Professor of Genetics and Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and BCRF investigator since 2003, was the recipient of the 2016 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science. Over the last two decades, Dr. Perou has been a pioneer in the field of cancer genomics, leading the way in deciphering genomic information to help inform treatment decision making for breast cancer patients. Work by Dr. Perou, much of which is supported by BCRF, led to the characterization of breast tumors and the classification of breast cancer into at least five molecular subtypes, including the discovery of the basal-like/triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) subtype. He and his colleagues were also among the first to discover that the breast cancer subtypes were of prognostic and predictive value, and furthermore, to associate specific genetic mutations with specific breast cancer subtypes. Read more about Dr. Perou's research and listen to his recent podcast on BCRF Conversations.

Dr. Max S. Wicha, MD, Professor of Oncology and director emeritus of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and BCRF investigator since 2008, was the recipient of the 2016 AACR Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer Research. Dr. Wicha was recognized for his leadership in breast cancer research and as a pioneer in the field of cancer stem cells (CSCs). His group was part of the effort to identify CSCs in human breast cancers. Work in his laboratory, much of which is supported by BCRF, has led to new techniques and assays to study CSCs and to understand the pathways that control their behavior. These pathways have provided targets for the development of drugs aimed at targeting CSCs. In his lecture, titled "Targeting Breast Cancer Stem Cells: Challenges and Opportunities," Dr. Wicha described the characteristics of stem cells that allow them to drive tumor metastasis and make them targets for directed therapies. He suggested that because CSCs are influenced by the tumor immune microenvironment, immunotherapeutic approaches may be effective against CSCs. "Early phase clinical trials," he noted, "have demonstrated the safety of CSC targeting agents. Future randomized trials will be required to determine whether addition of CSC targeting therapeutics to current [therapies] improves the efficacy of these [treatments]."

Dr. Fergus Couch, PhD, Professor of Medical Research, and Chair of the Division of Experimental Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN and BCRF investigator since 2007, was the recipient of the 2016 AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research. Dr. Couch was recognized for his seminal work in identifying the inherited genes and mutations that predispose to breast cancer. His research, much of which is supported by BCRF, has focused on determining the clinical relevance of inherited variants of uncertain significance (VUS) in genes that may predispose someone to breast cancer. In his lecture, titled "Decoding Breast Cancer Predisposition Genes,” Dr. Couch discussed the genetics research of the past 15 years, culminating in multigene panels for risk assessment and the development by his group of a polygenic risk score (PRS). PRS is a predictive algorithm that factors the associated risk of many genes, some of which will increase the risk of breast cancer and some decrease the risk. "The clinical implication of the PRS," he said, "is in its capacity to reclassify an individual's risk based on variation in genes that modify the risk associated with that gene."