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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 why African American women are more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) than white women.
Impact: Drs. Ambrosone and Hong are investigating the types of immune cells that are in and around breast tumors from African American and white women and whether immune cell populations affect tumor aggressiveness. Their findings may lead to more personalized approaches to breast cancer treatment.
What’s next: To further validate their pilot findings, the team will increase the enrollment of white women in the Women’s Circle of Health Study (WCHS), a large epidemiological study specifically established to investigate breast cancer disparities. The goal is to match the same number of white women to black women within a geographic area in order to do 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 white 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 white 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 white 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. Their work could inform new strategies to reduce racial disparities and improve survival for all women with breast cancer.
Current investigation: The team has been studying immune cells in and around breast tumors and how they differ between more aggressive and less aggressive tumor subtypes and between African American and white women. Their preliminary studies suggested that tumors from African-American women tend to have immune cells that are more dysfunctional in mounting an attack on tumor cells and are associated with poorer survival.
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. Initial results from another study showed that immune markers are higher in the stromal compartment–the tissue that surrounds the tumor–compared to the tumor.
What’s next: The researchers and their colleagues will continue their current investigation and expand it by enrolling more 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 white women and if they are related to poorer survival outcomes.
Dr. Ambrosone is a Professor of Oncology and Chair of the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. 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 is principal investigator with colleagues at Boston University and University of North Carolina of a multi-center study to identify genetic and non-genetic factors that could account for the high prevalence of more aggressive breast tumors among African-American women. 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.