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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: Our lifetime risk of breast cancer is impacted by a variety of factors, including lifestyle, environmental exposures, and hormones—all of which influence the expression of genes, whether they are “turned on” or “turned off” or don’t function the way they are supposed to. Dr. Storniolo is studying genes in women with a high risk of breast cancer in hopes of identifying new targets for breast cancer treatment and prevention.
What’s next: Recent findings by Dr. Storniolo’ s team identified a gene called SULT1C2 that is suppressed in the breast of high-risk women. She will examine the function of SULT1C2 to better understand its potential role in breast cancer prevention.
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. Storniolo 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. Dr. Storniolo is utilizing breast tissue and blood donated by healthy women to Indiana University’s Normal Tissue Bank to identify the molecular changes associated with breast cancer risk to learn how these changes result in the development of breast cancer. In ongoing BCRF-supported research, Dr. Storniolo identified nine genes that may be involved in early development of breast cancer in high risk women, including one—SULT1C2—not previously associated with breast cancer risk that is involved in the metabolism of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine.
Current investigation: In the coming year, Dr. Storniolo’ s team will examine the expression of these genes in relation to specific risk factors including obesity and age at menarche. They are particularly interested in SULT1C2, which is suppressed in the breast cells of healthy women with a high risk of breast cancer and will seek to determine if lack of SULT1C2 affects the ability of the cells in the breast to protect themselves from carcinogenic effects of potentially toxic foreign substances.
What she’s learned so far: Dr. Storniolo and her team identified nine genes whose expression is potentially regulated by DNA methylation—changes in DNA that can affect gene expression but do not involve changes in the DNA sequence. Because DNA methylation aberrations can occur in response to both genetic and environmental exposure (i.e. hormones, obesity, toxins), they are key in understanding how exposures affect an exposed individual’s cancer susceptibility.
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.
BCRF Investigator Since
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