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Anna Maria Storniolo, MD
Professor of Clinical Medicine
Department of Hematology/Oncology
Indiana University School of Medicine
Seeking new prevention and treatment strategies by identifying the molecular changes in normal breast tissue that gives rise to cancer.
Studies are planned to identify a high-risk DNA signature in healthy breast tissue to improve breast cancer risk assessment.
Insights gained from this work will inform future studies in cancer prevention and treatment strategies.
While breast cancer deaths have declined dramatically in the last two decades, far too many women and men continue to lose their lives to breast cancer. Studies focused on understanding risk of breast cancer development using tissue donated by healthy women are critical to understand the biology of early events that lead to cancer. Dr. Storniolo aims to improve the understanding of individual women’s risk of developing breast cancer and, ultimately, personalize breast cancer prevention.
Full Research Summary
Despite encouraging advances in breast cancer care, approximately 40,000 women in the US still lose their lives to this disease every year. Studying the normal mammary gland offers a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of the evolution of breast cancer.
Dr. Storniolo and colleagues utilize normal breast tissue samples to study biological changes occurring in the earliest stages of breast cancer development. To do this, she uses specimens from Normal Breast Tissue Bank at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, the only biorepository of normal breast tissue of its kind in the world.
In her current study, she will explore how biochemical changes to DNA of normal breast cells affect future risk of breast cancer. These modifications to the DNA – called DNA-methylation – are known to play a key role in determining whether genes are turned on or off (or high or low) and have been linked with cancer.
Dr. Storniolo's team will query if changes in DNA-methylation levels occur in healthy tissue, before the cancer emerges. She will study the DNA-methylation status for particular regions where DNA-methylation alterations have been found to be associated with 24 common cancers, including breast.
To address if DNA-methylation status can be used to prevent breast cancer, she will study the DNA-methylation status in normal breast tissue from women predicted to have either a (1) high risk or (2) average-risk for breast cancer development.
Aging is an important cancer risk factor and Dr. Storniolo will also evaluate the effect of aging on DNA-methylation levels.
Her goal is to identify a “high-risk methylation panel” that can be detected in blood to personalize breast cancer risk assessment.
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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