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Anna Maria Storniolo, MD
Professor of Clinical Medicine
Department of Hematology/Oncology
Indiana University School of Medicine
Goal: To understand how breast cancer develops in women at high risk of the disease.
Impact: Dr. Storniolo’s work is focused on identifying genes associated with breast cancer risk. This study will lead to a better understanding of what may initiate breast cancer in women who are considered at high risk for developing the disease.
What’s next: She and her team will study a collection of genes shown to be elevated in women with a high risk of breast cancer. They will examine the levels of these genes in women who go on to develop breast cancer versus those who do not.
While a great deal of progress has been made in our understanding of breast cancer, relatively little is known about the earliest stages of breast cancer – when a normal breast cell is transformed into a cancer cell. Using donated samples of healthy breast tissue, Dr. Stornolio is conducting studies to identify the molecular changes that cause normal tissue to become malignant – work that could lead to the development of personalized methods of preventing breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: To understand the earliest stages of cancer development to identify novel targets for the prevention of breast cancer in high-risk women.
Impact: Significant progress has been made in our understanding of the molecular drivers in aggressive breast cancers, but the early events that lead to cancer are still unknown. Utilizing Indiana University’s Normal Tissue Bank, Dr. Storniolo is examining the molecular changes that occur in breasts of cancer-free women who are considered at high risk for developing breast cancer. She and her colleagues have found that the breast tissue of these women has higher levels of specific genes, six of which have also been seen at high levels in breast cancer. They are exploring the role of these six genes in breast cancer development and hope to uncover novel therapeutic targets for breast cancer prevention.
Current investigation: Dr. Storniolo is pursuing a new line of research that builds on recent findings implicating several genes in the development of breast cancer. They are conducting studies to determine how these genes regulate cell transformation and cancer.
What she’s learned so far: Dr. Storniolo and her team identified genes that are linked with the first steps of breast tumor development. These genes are over-expressed in women at high risk for developing breast cancer and are associated with the transformation of normal breast cells to malignant cancer cells.
What’s next: In the coming year, Dr. Storniolo’s team will explore the role of six genes in breast cancer susceptibility by comparing their presence and activity in samples from healthy women who later developed breast cancer to samples from women who did not develop breast cancer. In so doing, they hope to identify some of the earliest steps in breast cancer development. They will also develop a tissue-based test that will help to identify normal-appearing breast tissue that in fact is at high risk for developing breast cancer.
Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo is a medical oncologist and Professor of Clinical Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. She earned her medical degree at Stanford and completed her Internal Medicine residency and fellowships in Hematology and Medical Oncology at the University of Rochester.
Prior to coming to Indiana University in September 2000, she was an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California-San Diego. She also served in leadership positions at Eli Lilly (1992-2000), where she was responsible for the clinical development of various cancer drugs, most notably Gemzar (gemcitabine).
In addition to treating women breast cancer, Dr. Storniolo is director of the Catherine Peachey Breast Cancer Prevention Program, a comprehensive program providing risk assessment and counseling for women who may be at risk for developing breast cancer.
Her research interests include helping to define the process by which a normal breast cell becomes cancerous. That work has led her to found the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at the I.U. Simon Cancer Center, a biorepository of biologic specimens primarily from women who do not have breast cancer. These samples are a source of DNA, RNA and proteins which are invaluable in deciphering the molecular changes leading from normal breast cells to cancer. Elucidating the steps in the malignant process will lead to finding blood markers that could be used to identify women at risk before they actually develop breast cancer, and would also allow the development of medicines that would alter that process and prevent cancer from occurring.
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