Breast Cancer Research Foundation funds four at UNC Lineberger

Four faculty members from UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have been awarded yearlong grants from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).

CHAPEL HILL, NC – Four faculty members from UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have been awarded yearlong grants from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).

Dr. Lisa Carey, medical director of the UNC Breast Center and associate professor of medicine; Dr. H. Shelton Earp, Lineberger professor and director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center; Dr. Hyman Muss, director of geriatric oncology at UNC Lineberger and professor of medicine and Dr. Charles Perou, associate professor of genetics and pathology. Each received a one-year grant designed to further promising research in the field of breast cancer.  

“We are proud to be one of only a handful of university cancer centers to receive four grants from BCRF this year.  The foundation and the generous people and organizations who support their research programs expect the highest degree of scientific merit and we are pleased to be well-represented in this elite group,” said Earp.

BCRF is supporting a clinical trial led by Dr. Carey, designed to understand which women benefit most and are harmed the least by chemotherapy.  Carey and her colleagues are collecting genetic material from 1,000 breast cancer patients and 1,000 healthy women of similar age, race, and ethnicity before breast cancer patients are treated with chemotherapy, allowing researchers to directly measure responsiveness of their breast cancer to chemotherapy that is given.  By comparing the genetic profiles in those patients who respond to chemotherapy with those who do not, the team can validate which genetic mutations are associated with differences in treatment outcomes.

Dr. Earp’s team will continue a three-part research program focused on developing a new and Improved Anti-HER2 Breast Cancer Vaccine; understanding the genetic determinants of breast cancer’s development and response to therapy; and examining the EGF Receptor family in breast cancer and the role of HER4. 

The first project performed with Dr. Jon Serody is a therapeutic cancer vaccine clinical trial that combines two drugs with the vaccine in the treatment of women with high HER2-expressing metastatic breast cancer.  The second project has worked with more than 1,000 women to obtain DNA samples as well as epidemiologic, clinical, therapeutic and outcome data so that researchers can better understand how complex genetic inheritance influences a woman’s predisposition to breast cancer.  Finally, the researchers are studying another member of the EGF/HER2 receptor family, HER4.  One variant of HER4 slows breast cancer cell growth, while the other actually stimulates growth.  The team hopes to unravel the mechanisms by which those two variants, which differ by only one percent of the gene’s length, have opposite effects on breast cancer cell growth.

Dr. Muss’ new project focuses on patients aged 65 and older, assessing the costs and benefits of adjuvant chemotherapy.  While this therapy has been shown to improve survival in older women with breast cancer, side effects may interfere with the quality of life and daily function.  In collaboration with UNC Lineberger colleague Dr. Ned Sharpless, Muss’ team is seeking to understand the effect of adjuvant chemotherapy on a biomarker of aging called p16INKa.  They will also measure the biomarker in patients treated only with surgery and those treated with adjuvant endocrine therapy to determine if the increased expression of this biomarker in some older patients is associated with their susceptibility to the age-promoting effects and associated toxicities of chemotherapy.

Dr. Perou’s team is focused on two subtypes of breast cancer that are associated with poor clinical outcomes, “Luminal B” and “Claudin-low.”  The team is focused on identifying how genetic alterations cause these tumors and determining the role of stem cells in their biology.  Using the genomic data for these tumor types and key clinical data, Perou’s team is building a predictive mathematical model for breast cancer patient outcomes that could assist doctors in making therapeutic decisions.
About BCRF

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is an independent 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to achieve prevention and a cure for breast cancer in our lifetime by providing critical funding for innovative clinical and translational research at leading medical centers worldwide, and increasing public awareness about good breast health. More information is available at www.bcrfcure.org.

Contact: Ellen de Graffenreid, (919) 962-3405, edegraff@med.unc.edu

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