AACR Names Perou 2009 Outstanding Investigator for Breast Cancer Research

Monday, December 7, 2009 — Calling his work “one of the most important findings in breast cancer and health disparities in the last decade,” the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has named Charles M. Perou, PhD the 2009 Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research, funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.

Perou, who is an associate professor of genetics, pathology & laboratory medicine, and a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will present an invited lecture this week at the 32nd Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and receive an honorarium.

Dr. Perou’s work sets the stage to redefine breast cancer into multiple subtypes of disease. His findings are causing the entire field to reevaluate all preconceived notions regarding what causes breast cancer and how to treat it. Recognition of his accomplishments by AACR and Komen demonstrate the power of his ideas and their rapid acceptance by the scientific and clinical communities.

Dr. Perou’s research crosses the disciplines of biology, genetics, bioinformatics, epidemiology and the clinical treatment of breast cancer. His major contribution to the field has been leading a team that has characterized the diversity of breast tumors and classified them in a way that helps physicians better understand why some cancers do not respond to standard therapies and to tailor treatment to the patient’s disease type.

He and his colleagues have demonstrated that breast tumors can be classified into five molecular subtypes, with his lab focusing particular attention on the basal-like tumor subtype, which has a poor prognosis when given standard therapy. He is also currently studying the mechanisms that give rise to each tumor subtype, why some subtypes respond to chemotherapy and others do not, and he is using animal models and human clinical trials samples to develop new therapies targeted to each of the different subtypes.

With UNC Lineberger members Dr. Bob Millikan, who is the Barbara Sorenson Hulka Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Dr. Lisa Carey, associate professor of hematology/oncology and director of the UNC Breast Center, Dr. Perou has translated these molecular subtypes to the wider patient population. Using a North Carolina-based study of a population-representative breast cancer patient set, this team found that pre-menopausal African American women are diagnosed with one particular subtype, the basal-like tumor, twice as often as their Caucasian counterparts – providing significant insight into racial disparities that have long been known to exist in breast cancer mortality. Ongoing work is demonstrating that each breast cancer subtype has distinct risk factors.

In presenting the award, AACR notes that Dr. Perou’s laboratory discoveries are being incorporated into clinical practice – the treatment of patients – worldwide. The organization also cites his international leadership in bioinformatics analysis of gene expression data and notes that these techniques will help researchers better compare animal models of cancer with those in humans, potentially speeding up preclinical trials of new therapeutic agents.

The award recognizes an investigator “whose novel and significant work has had or may have a far-reaching impact on the etiology, detection, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of breast cancer” according to the AACR web site.

More information can be found at http://aacr.org/ 

UNC Lineberger Cancer Center contact: Ellen de Graffenreid, (919) 962-3405, edegraff@med.unc.edu
Dianne Shaw, (919) 966-7834 , dgs@med.unc.edu

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