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Martine J. Piccart, MD, PhD
Honoray Professor of Oncology
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Institut Jules Bordet
Member, BCRF Scientific Advisory Board
Goal: To understand the origins of metastatic breast cancer (MBC), how it evolves and why it shows discrepancies in responses to available therapies.
Impact: Dr. Piccart is studying tumor tissue, metastatic lesions and blood samples from women with MBC in order to gain insight into gene changes that occur from the time the tumor develops to when it spreads to distant organs. She is also recording the responses (or lack of responses) to the therapies given to the women enrolled in this program providing a unique longitudinal research axis. Her work may reveal better ways to treat and manage MBC.
Having made exciting discoveries about how tumors evolve and spread to other tissues in the first 381 enrolled participants, Dr. Piccart and her colleagues will now analyze additional tissue and blood samples from another 620 patients to confirm their findings.
While primary breast cancer is very well understood at the molecular level, far less is known about the genetic changes that cause it to metastasize (spread to other tissues in the body). Using advanced technologies, Dr. Piccart is conducting laboratory studies of samples taken from primary tumors and metastatic lesions that she hopes will reveal the nature of these changes and how they might be targeted to prevent or treat metastatic breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Understanding the molecular alterations in metastatic breast cancer that correlate with disease progression and/or therapeutic resistance.
Impact: Metastatic breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related mortality among women in the Western world. Dr. Piccart and her team of cancer experts and bio-informaticians are analyzing tumor tissue and blood samples collected from patients enrolled in the AURORA study for metastatic breast cancer. She hopes to identify changes in tumor DNA that affect how the tumor responds to treatment.
Current research: Dr. Piccart’s team is conducting deep molecular analysis of samples taken from the primary tumor and/or from the metastatic lesions of patients included in the AURORA molecular screening program. The initial analysis has identified genetic changes correlated with tumor progression and resistance to cancer treatment.
What she’s learned so far: Her team has completed the molecular profiling of the first 381 patients included in the AURORA program and has started to characterize the samples from all other participating patients. Their analysis has identified a particular kind of genetic change, CNAs (copy number aberrations). CNAs are considered a dominant genetic change in breast cancer and, therefore, CNAs can represent important targets for new cancer therapies.
What’s next: The team will complete the extensive molecular characterization of the remaining patients included in AURORA and expand the bioinformatics analysis performed so far. Analyzing data from all AURORA patients will be essential to validate initial findings and to allow the study of rarer subtypes of breast cancer. This will enable a better understanding of the origin and evolution of metastatic breast cancer.
Martine J. Piccart, MD, PhD, is Honorary Professor of Oncology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Belgium, and Scientific Director at the Institut Jules Bordet.
She is co-founder and chair of the Breast International Group (BIG), uniting 57 academic research groups from around the world, running over 30 trials, and developing numerous research programs. AURORA, a study to better understand metastatic breast cancer, is the most ambitious of these.
Dr. Piccart is past-president of the EORTC, of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) and of the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO). She served on the ASCO and AACR Boards. Author or co-author of more than 540 peer-reviewed publications, she has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Jill Rose Award, the William L. McGuire Award, the Umberto Veronesi Award for the Future Fight against Cancer, the 2013 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award, the Leopold Griffuel Award and the Bob Pinedo Award in 2018.
BCRF Investigator Since
The Leonard and Judy Lauder Fund Award