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Investigating Breast Cancer, the official podcast of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, examines the latest in breast cancer news with the most respected minds in science.
Available on iTunes and at BCRF.org/podcasts, the series contains insightful conversations with BCRF's scientific leadership and features experts that are taking part in groundbreaking science every day. As the only organization dedicated exclusively to breast cancer research, BCRF’s new podcast reflects a multitude of hot topics, examining the promise of scientific discovery. Simply search for Investigating Breast Cancer and subscribe to the channel in your Podcast app, available through any of the players below:
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Few have a more significant history or deeper relationship with breast cancer research and researchers than Dr. Larry Norton. Dr. Norton is Scientific Director of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. He is also one of the organization’s founders. Dr. Norton serves as Medical Director of the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and among many other honors and appointments, he was a U.S. Presidential appointee to the National Cancer Advisory Board – the board of directors of the National Cancer Institute.
Once you get beyond pink, what is the best path to help put an end to breast cancer – the most common cancer in women worldwide and second leading cause of cancer death in American women, exceeded only by lung cancer? Talk to many people who dedicate their lives to finding a cure, and the answer you’ll hear most often: Research. So where are we with global scientific research into breast cancer – its causes and cures? Which latest findings offer the best hopes, biggest surprises, most frustrating obstacles? How can the research go faster – find hidden clues more quickly? If science is the key to a cure, what steps can we all take to help researchers open the lock? Dr. Marc Hurlbert is Chief Mission Officer of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, overseeing the foundation's global research grants program and a $59.5 million research-granting budget. Marc previously helped launch the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance, and has served as the Chairman of the Board of the International Cancer Research Partnership, the Health Research Alliance and is also the former chairman of the Cancer Committee Advisory Board for the New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Hereditary predisposition to breast cancer – a person’s own genes, passed down from parent to child – remains one of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – in the drive to prevent the disease. Of course, women with mutations in the hereditary breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, have much higher risks of breast and ovarian cancers that often develop early in life. That’s why fully understanding the process that a normal cell must take to transform into a tumor cell in BRCA mutation carriers is – among the wide range of important and potentially life saving scientific research – central not only to new insights and approaches to cancer prevention but also, quite simply, how many families may think about their futures. One of the leaders of that research: Dr. Judy Garber. Dr. Garber is Chairman of the BCRF Scientific Advisory Board. She is also Director of the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at the Susan Smith Center for Women's Cancers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, as well as Director of the Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. A professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, among her many honors, in 2013 Dr. Garber was elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine, now known as the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences.
When many of us hear the word technology or consider the life changing power of new technologies, we think about companies like Google or Apple or Amazon or Tesla. We think about products like internet search or I phones or drone deliveries or even self-driving cars.
Dr. Charles Perou thinks about breast cancer. You might say he sits at the intersection of technology and tumors.
Dr. Perou is the May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology Research and professor of Genetics and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of North Carolina's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. He also has been a BCRF grantee since 2003. Among Dr. Perou's many areas of study, using new genetic and genomic technologies, technologies that look at single genes, that's genetics, as well as all parts of an organism's genes, that's genomics, in order to do what he calls personalized medicine, tailoring patient care to individuals based on their particular genetic makeup. The goal? To significantly improve patient outcomes.
You know the expression, it's what's on the inside that matters. It turns out for that cells including cancer cells, including cancer cells, the outside matters a whole lot too.
Specifically, the interactions between the extracellular matrix in the micro environment, the connections between the outside of the cell and the inside is central to how that cell behaves and for cancer cells, how they might grow, spread or most importantly be stopped.
It's hard to overestimate the magnitude of this breakthrough for biology, cancer research and importantly breast cancer research. This singular discovery rewrote decades of scientific understanding and redirected vast amounts of future research and success. It occurred because of what's been called the controversial insistence of Dr. Mina Bissell.
Dr. Bissell is a distinguished scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at UC Berkeley. She's also one of the most honored scientists in the world. Among her many awards, Dr. Bissell received the E.B. Wilson Medal, the highest honor the American Society of Cell Biology bestows.
Among the many important research areas of breast cancer and frankly all cancers is what's called survivorship; quality of life and the ability to live independently. Among older survivors, one area of concern: cognitive decline or memory loss. This is one of the areas that Dr. Arti Hurria studies. Dr. Hurria and her team focus on older, long-term breast cancer survivors looking at memory difference between those who received chemotherapy versus those who did not compared to healthy women of the same age who never had cancer. What might their discoveries offer in terms of predicting potential memory issues among survivors and, importantly, creating interventions to preserve capabilities and the highest possible quality of life?
In 2003, Clarke's lab was the first to identify breast cancer stem cells. Since then, among other findings, Clarke's team has identified two genes critical for stem cell functions including a gene that regulates normal stem cell dormancy which can drive the unpredictable length of time when tumor cells exist quietly without clinical manifestation. It's one of the most pressing problems in breast cancer responsible for late relapses. What's next from Dr. Clarke and his lab? What ideas is he exploring that might help prevent relapse?
Dr. Debra Barton is the Mary Lou Willard French professor of nursing at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. She has spent her career looking at symptom management from multiple perspectives and finding ways to use more than one intervention to reduce symptoms with minimal to no side-effects. She's also been a BCRF grantee since 2008.
What does the beginning of breast cancer look like? What happens at the very start that turns normal breast tissue into the first stages of cancer, and by recognizing these early molecular changes and pathway alternations, could we not only improve our understanding of the evolution of breast cancer, but also one might hope find a way to stop it before it even begins.
Today's conversation proves a simple math problem: two is better than one. Actually today's conversation also tackles some really complicated math and science. Specifically, how applied mathematics and tumor biology are coming together to drive important new research in breast cancer and metastasis.
What if we could track where the cancer is moving through the body, not by evasive biopsies, but rather through a common procedure we go through nearly anytime we visit a doctor. A simple blood draw. That's just one of the innovations discussed with Dr. Peter Kuhn.
Immunotherapy – treating a disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response – remains one of the biggest hopes in terms of potentially finding a breast cancer cure. And yet, it also remains an incredibly challenging discipline. What works for one type of cancer may not for another.
Well-designed randomized clinical trails may provide information about prevention strategies and effective treatments for women at risk of or diagnosed with breast cancer. A major limitation of clinical trials, however, is that results apply to the trial group as a whole, but not necessarily to each individual woman. That's because individual responses are influenced by the patient's and the tumor's unique DNA or genetic profile.
How might researchers precisely identify risks for individual women based on protein and gene biomarkers to predict outcomes for breast cancer treatment or even prevention?
Most women who die of breast cancer die from metastatic disease, the spread of tumor cells to different parts of the body. Metastasis often results following treatment failure, but it also can occur decades after what was thought to be successful treatment. Currently, no curative therapies exist for metastatic breast cancer. But today, the race to develop effective treatments for this disease is a key focus of some extraordinary research, much of it centering on cancer cells’ protein synthesis machinery and a protein called mTOR. What’s the status of this research – and what might some practical outcomes look like?
It sounds like something out of Game of Thrones: Attack the weakness. Today, we apply the phrase to a more important and real battle – the one against breast cancer.
As you’ll hear, Dr. Alan Ashworth is part of a team that developed something called PARP Inhibitors and, quite creatively, identified ways to use them to attack the weaknesses of various cancers, including breast cancer. As a recent new report noted, “with three recent FDA approvals, and a number of Phase 3 trials ongoing, the drugs are seeing a surge in interest.”
How do PARP Inhibitors work and what might they mean for attacking cancers’ weaknesses?