Drs. Vered Stearns and Jennifer Sheng discuss how Conquer Cancer–BCRF awards impacted their careers

To nurture the careers of up-and-coming breast cancer researchers, BCRF has underwritten grants in partnership with Conquer Cancer®, the ASCO Foundation for the past 20 years. These awards provide vital funding at the start and middle of investigators’ careers—two critical junctures when research dollars and “protected time” (dedicated working hours for research) can be hard to secure. RELATED: Meet the Four Recipients of This Year’s Conquer Cancer–BCRF Awards Jennifer Sheng holds her Conquer Cancer-BCRF award and poses with her mentor, Dr. Vered Stearns Thanks to this partnership’s longevity and BCRF’s sustained financial support, the Foundation is now funding several investigators who were first awarded Conquer Cancer–BCRF grants. One such researcher is Dr. Vered Stearns, who received the program’s first Advanced Clinical Research Award (ACRA) for mid-career investigators in 2004. Today, Dr. Stearns is not only a BCRF grantee exploring ways to reduce breast cancer risk and recurrence through weight loss intervention, but she also serves as a member of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Stearns also mentors young breast cancer researchers at Johns Hopkins University, including Dr. Jennifer Sheng, who received the one-year Conquer Cancer–BCRF Endowed Young Investigator Award in Memory of Evelyn H. Lauder in 2019. Drs. Stearns and Sheng joined BCRF’s Kari Fischer, PhD for a conversation about their research interests, why it’s essential to support early- and mid-career investigators, and what Conquer Cancer­–BCRF funding has enabled them to do in the lab.

Among the conversation’s highlights:

Conquer Cancer–BCRF awards bolster researchers at critical times: “We need to support physicians not just when they’re starting out and not just when they’re comfortable, but when they’re transitioning from those first few mentored years to their independent years. That was a very anxiety-provoking time for me. My ACRA really allowed me to be independent and [advance] to a more senior level. I’m not sure what my career would have been like if I didn’t have those additional protected years for research.”—Dr. Stearns RELATED: Listen to Dr. Stearns on the BCRF Podcast Young investigators face many hurdles launching their careers: “Any researcher will tell you there have been common challenges—whether you’re researching in 2021 or 10 years ago. Time, research and clinical care responsibilities, and administrative duties are always something we’re trying to juggle.”—Dr. Sheng These awards give researchers the time and space to innovate and collaborate: “This was probably the most important award I received to help me pursue clinical investigation. I was able to maintain protected time to write and think of new ideas to bring to the clinic; collaborate with my laboratory team; and quickly pursue studies I was interested in.”—Dr. Stearns Watch the full video above or on our YouTube.

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