Indiana University School of Medicine
Ballvé-Lantero Scholar in Oncology
Professor, Department of Medicine
Co-Director, Simon Cancer Center Breast Cancer Program
Developing new treatments specifically for Black women with breast cancer
A 30-year-old Black woman is twice as likely to die from breast cancer before she reaches age 50 than a 30-year-old white woman. Data from the large, annotated collection of breast cancers from Black and white women from the Women’s Circle of Health Study (WCHS) and normal breast tissue from Black donors (Komen Tissue Bank) both point to important differences in immune pathway activation. Dr. Miller and her team identified a unique cell type (the ‘PZP’ cell) that increases inflammation in the normal breast tissue of Black women by producing an inflammatory chemical called IL-6, which has been associated with resistance to chemotherapy and progression to metastasis. The prolonged and heightened inflammatory response in Black women allows tumors to evade immune surveillance, resulting in more aggressive disease. Chronic inflammation ‘exhausts’ the immune system, further exacerbating disparities in outcome. Effective FDA approved IL-6 targeted therapies are already in clinical use for autoimmune diseases, but they have not been studied as a part of breast cancer therapy.
Dr. Miller and her team will launch a clinical trial to compare IL-6 targeted therapy plus chemotherapy or chemotherapy along in Black and non-Black women with metastatic triple negative breast cancer. While inhibition of IL-6 may augment response to chemotherapy broadly, the team expects a greater benefit in Black women compared to non-Black women.
Kathy D. Miller, MD is Professor of Medicine and the Ballvé-Lantero Scholar at Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine. She is also the Associate Director for Clinical Research at the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. Dr. Miller’s career has combined both laboratory and clinical research in breast cancer. She was the chair of the ECOG-ACRIN Breast Core Committee from 2014-2017, leaving that role when she was elected Co-Chair of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Breast Cancer Steering Committee. She spearheaded efforts with Radiology to expand cancer screening studies at IU.
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