BCRF sat down with Dr. George W. Sledge to discuss his current work and interest in breast cancer research. Read on to learn more.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in breast cancer research.
A: I became interested in breast cancer research by training with a breast cancer researcher, Dr. Bill McGuire, during my oncology fellowship at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. McGuire was a giant in early research involving both steroid receptors and the development of prognostic factors. He taught me, at an early point in my career, that biology should drive therapy in breast cancer. It was a lesson that has been extremely valuable to me in my work.
Q: Briefly describe your research project.
A: My BCRF funded research has focused on the general area of angiogenesis and anti-angiogenic therapy. We have known for many years, largely through the work of BCRF-funded investigator Dr. Judah Folkman, that new blood vessel formation was a crucial element in the growth and metastasis of breast cancer. In the past decade our group has used this crucial observation as the basis for studying anti-angiogenic therapy as a new therapy for patients with breast cancer. In the laboratory, we investigated combinations of anti-angiogenic agents with standard therapies. We applied the lessons we learned in the laboratory to the clinic in a series of clinical trials culminating in ECOG trial E2100, which demonstrated that anti-angiogenic therapy significantly affected treatment outcome for patients with advanced breast cancer. We have subsequently built on this study by using BCRF funding to examine which patients benefit from anti-angiogenic therapy, as well as to develop new strategies to overcome the cancer's resistance to these therapies.
Q: What are your primary goals for this research?
A: Our primary goals are a) to develop effective treatments for women with breast cancer using agents that target blood vessels; b) to determine who benefits from these agents; and c) to develop new strategies that overcome resistance to anti-angiogenic agents.
Q: Who do you think will benefit from your research?
A: Because new blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) is a central hallmark of the biology of breast cancer, and because the target (host blood vessel cells) are found in all breast tumors, we predict that all women with invasive breast cancers might potentially benefit from anti-angiogenic therapies.
Q: How has your research focus changed since your first BCRF grant, and how would you say that our grants have had an impact on your work and the field?
A: Our work has changed significantly over the years. When we first began, we did not know whether anti-angiogenic therapy would work in the clinic. There were no proof-of-concept clinical trials available, and widespread skepticism regarding the potential benefits of anti-angiogenic therapy. These initial hurdles have been overcome through the successful completion of trials such as E2100. It is important to emphasize that the crucial step forward in breast cancer, the E2100 trial, was based on research performed in the laboratory with BCRF funding-a perfect example of how the flexibility provided to BCRF investigators can have important results. We have now moved on to face other important challenges. We want to make anti-angiogenic therapy targeted therapy. Because all agents have winners and losers from a therapeutic standpoint, and because these agents are expensive and not without toxicity, we want to find ways of focusing our best efforts on those most likely to benefit. Similarly, we want to discover why therapy fails and how we might reverse these therapeutic failures.
Q: How close do you think we are to preventing or finding a cure for breast cancer?
A: We will find multiple cures for breast cancer, because there are multiple types of breast cancer.
Read more about Dr. Sledge's current research project funded by BCRF.