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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Renowned Cancer Authority to Give Bernard Fisher Lecture at Pitt

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 19, 2010 – Max S. Wicha, M.D., founding director of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, will deliver the 2010 Bernard Fisher Lecture at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Dr. Wicha, a distinguished professor of oncology at the University of Michigan, will speak at 3:30 p.m. in Auditorium 6, Scaife Hall. The title of his lecture is “Clinical Implications of Breast Cancer Stem Cells.” The event is free and open to the public. A reception will follow in Room 1105, Scaife Hall.

“Dr. Wicha is one of the nation’s most prominent leaders in cancer research as well as cancer care. Like Dr. Fisher, for whom the lecture is named, he has helped shift the way we think about the spread of breast cancer,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at Pitt.

Dr. Wicha was a member of the team that identified stem cells in breast cancer, the first such finding for a solid human tumor. He continues to study breast cancer stem cells and their ability to create and feed tumors. His laboratory has demonstrated that breast cancers are driven by a small subcomponent of cancer stem cells, and he is investigating the hypothesis that cancerous stem cells renew as they divide to generate more diseased stem cells to propagate tumor growth. Dr. Wicha’s research is motivating some investigators to reevaluate chemotherapy and radiation because the treatments don’t seem to kill the cancer stem cells, which, he believes, are the cause of the problem.

“The stem cells are the root of the plant, and what we’ve been doing is essentially using some herbicide that just kills the leaves,” said Dr. Wicha, whose clinical practice focuses on the treatment of breast cancer patients.

After receiving his M.D. from Stanford University in 1974, he trained in internal medicine at the University of Chicago before working in medical oncology at the National Cancer Institute. In 1980, he moved to the University of Michigan.

Dr. Fisher, a 1943 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has served as distinguished service professor of surgery at Pitt since 1986. He is a founding member and past chairman and scientific director of the Pittsburgh-based National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project, the research consortium that he chaired from 1967 to 1994. From 1955 to 1968, he directed the Laboratory of Surgical Research, which he founded at the University.

Dr. Fisher is best known for overturning the prevailing paradigm that breast cancer metastasizes in an orderly and sequential way from the breast to neighboring lymph nodes before any further spread – a paradigm that led to radical mastectomy as standard treatment for this disease. Instead, after almost two decades of laboratory investigation related to the biology of tumor metastasis, he proposed that breast cancer is a systemic disease that metastasizes unpredictably. Using randomized clinical trials, Fisher found that radical mastectomy was no more effective that total mastectomy and, in turn, that total mastectomy was no more effective than lumpectomy in treating breast cancer.

Dr. Fisher went on to show the effectiveness of adjuvant chemotherapy and hormonal therapy (tamoxifen) in treating breast cancer as a systemic disease not cured by surgery alone. In subsequent studies related to breast cancer prevention, Dr. Fisher also found that tamoxifen can substantially reduce the incidence of breast cancer in high-risk women.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997 and now ranks fifth in the nation, according to preliminary data for fiscal year 2008. Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy.

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