Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
Buffalo, New York
Department of Cancer Prevention and Control
Understanding the molecular drivers of aggressive breast cancer in Black women and how these are different in white women.
Black women are 42 percent more likely to die of their breast cancer than white women. Those diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to be younger than newly diagnosed white women and are two times more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), an aggressive subtype of the disease. Drs. Hong and Ambrosone are investigating several biological and lifestyle factors that may influence the incidence of TNBC in Black women. This work may provide new insights at the population level into why some women develop more aggressive breast tumors so that personalized prevention and treatment can be designed.
The team is studying immune cells that are in and around breast tumors, and how these types of immune cells differ between more aggressive and less aggressive tumor subtypes and between Black women and white women. They showed that some tumors appear to have a strong immune response, but the cells are actually ‘exhausted’ and dysfunctional. These findings led to a large national study to see if patients with exhausted immune cells, particularly Black women, could benefit from immunotherapy, which can re-invigorate these exhausted cells. Drs. Hong and Ambrosone also found systemic differences in immune profiles in healthy women related to a variant in the DARC gene, which evolved in African populations and stimulates a strong immune response to fight malaria infection. They discovered that circulating levels of immune cells are determined by DARC genotypes and in the past year, showed that DARC genotypes are also linked to immune cells in tumors. Work is ongoing to investigate whether DARC genotypes are also associated with more aggressive breast cancer subtypes. and we are studying how the immune system can make tumors behave more aggressively.
In the coming year, Drs. Hong and Ambrosone will more deeply explore how DARC genotypes may be related to breast tumor aggressiveness. The team will also look at how immune processes within tumors as well as inherited differences in immune response may influence racial disparities in tumor aggressiveness as well as outcomes.
Dr. Chi-Chen Hong is an Associate Member in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control within the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at Roswell Park. Dr. Hong’s research is focused on breast cancer etiology, survivorship, and prognosis. Specifically, her interests are on the influence of lifestyle, comorbidity, genetics, and immune factors. She has an ongoing prospective cohort study of early stage breast cancer patients to examine issues in breast cancer survivorship, and with colleagues at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Rutgers University is principal investigator of a study examining the role of obesity and related comorbidities, including asthma and type 2 diabetes, and their management on quality-of-life and breast cancer survival outcomes among African American women, and to elucidate key pathways mediating these associations.
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