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Christine B. Ambrosone, PhD
Professor and Chair
Department of Cancer Prevention and Control
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center
Buffalo, New York
Goal: To understand the molecular drivers of aggressive breast cancer in African American women and how these are different in Caucasian women.
Impact: African American women are 40 percent more likely to die of their breast cancer white women. Those diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to be younger than newly diagnosed white women and more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive disease. While these disparate outcomes are complex and multifactorial, the work of Drs. Ambrosone and Hong is shedding light on molecular factors that contribute to worse mortality rates in Black women compared to white women.
What’s next: Recent findings suggest the immune cells associated with tumors of African American women are defective in their ability to kill cancer cells, suggesting a potential explanation for worse outcomes compared to white women. To further validate their findings, the team will increase the enrollment of Black women in the Women’s Circle of Health Study (WCHS), to match the same number of white women to black women for a more in-depth analysis.
TNBC is an aggressive disease that disproportionately affects women of African ancestry. Why this disparity exists is not well understood. Drs. Ambrosone and Hong are studying breast tumor tissues from both African American and Caucasian women to identify factors that may influence the incidence of TNBC in African American women.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Identifying factors that influence the incidence of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) in African American women, who are more likely to be diagnosed with this aggressive subtype of breast cancer than Caucasian women.
Impact: While TNBC accounts for less than 20 percent of breast cancer diagnosed in the US, women of African American descent are two times more likely to be diagnosed with TNBC than Caucasian women. Currently, it is not clear what accounts for this disparity. Drs. Ambrosone and Hong are investigating several biological and lifestyle factors that may influence the incidence of TNBC in African American 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 may be designed.
Current investigation: The team is conduting a series of studies to delineate some of the underlying biological factors of more aggressive breast cancers in African Amerinca women compared to Caucasian women. Current studies include characterizing immune cells in and around breast tumors and the effect of breast feeding on the development of triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive breast cancer that disproportionately affect Black women.
What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Ambrosone and Hong found that tumors from African American women have higher levels of exhausted T cells for all subtypes of breast cancer, and that this is associated with poorer survival. Results from their study on breast feeding has shown that FOXA1–a developmental protein involved in cell differentiation–is supppressed in TNBC and in breast cells of women who do not breast feed after childbirth, suggesting an explanation for the benefit of breast feeding in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
What’s next: In the coming year, the researchers plan to expand the immune cell study with a larger cohort of white women to confirm their initial findings of a prevalence of dysfunctional T-cells in the tumors of Black women compared to white women. With this larger sample size, they will measure a comprehensive panel of proteins in tumors that characterize exhausted immune cells to determine if they are, in fact, more prevalent in tumors from African-American women than Caucasian women and if they are related to poorer survival outcomes in African-American women.
Dr. Ambrosone is a Distinguished Professor of Oncology, Chair of the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control, and Senior Vice President for Population Sciences at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. She is also co-leader of the CCSG Population Sciences Program. She was formerly a member of NCI’s EPIC Study Section and the ACS’s study section on Carcinogenesis, Nutrition and the Environment, and has served on several special emphasis panels and SPORE reviews. She is former Senior Editor for Cancer Research, was a member of the Board of Scientific Advisors to the Director of the National Cancer Institute until 2012, and served on the Interagency Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Coordinating Committee, established by the US Secretary of Health and Human Services to examine the state of the science on breast cancer and the environment and provide recommendations for future directions in research.
Dr. Ambrosone’s research focuses on both the etiology of breast cancer and factors that influence recurrence and survival after breast cancer diagnosis. She leads a number of studies aimed at determining factors that could account for the high prevalence of more aggressive breast tumors among African-American women, and mechanisms underlying these associations. She is also involved in studies of genetic variability in cancer treatment outcomes (pharmacogenetics) and the potential effects of diet, supplements and lifestyle factors during and after therapy on breast cancer treatment outcomes.