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Breast Cancer Research Foundation Continues Support of Pitt Investigators with New Funding for Personalized Medicine Research

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11/18/2013

In the last five years, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) has provided research support for scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) with nearly $2 million in funding for breast cancer research with the potential for clinical application. That support continues this year with $720,000 provided to three researchers investigating ways to improve treatment and survival outcomes for women with breast cancer.

Nancy E. Davidson, M.D., director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC CancerCenter; Adrian V. Lee, Ph.D., director of the Women’s Cancer Research Center (WCRC), a collaboration between UPCI and MWRI; and Steffi Oesterreich, Ph.D., director of education at WCRC, have each received $240,000 from the foundation this year. The awards are part of $45 million in grants to breast cancer researchers announced at the BCRF 2013 Symposium and Awards Luncheon in October.

Dr. Davidson’s laboratory will use the funds to continue studying the role of epigenetic changes in breast cancer development and therapy.

“We know that breast cancer results from an accumulation of genetic and epigenetic changes in the cancer cell. Because epigenetic changes alter gene activity but not the genes themselves, they potentially could be reversed. We are evaluating ways to counteract these changes as a new way to treat breast cancer,” said Dr. Davidson, a recipient of BCRF funding for 15 years.

The goal of Dr. Lee’s laboratory is to improve the prediction of breast cancer prognosis and its response to treatment. His first award from BCRF will support research investigating the differences found within breast cancers.

“We’ve known for some time that there are different types of breast cancers,” said Dr. Lee. “Now we are trying to understand how differences within the breast cancer tumor operate. One tumor can have an area of aggressive disease and an area of benign disease. We need to determine the importance of the aggressive disease. Understanding the differences within breast cancer tumors will help us refine personalized treatment approaches for breast cancer patients.”

This is the third consecutive year Dr. Oesterreich has received an award from BCRF supporting her research investigating invasive lobular carcinomas (ILC), which represent 30,000 cases of breast cancer each year.

“The study of ILC-related breast cancer currently is underfunded, so the support I receive from BCRF is particularly important,” said Dr. Oesterreich. “Currently, patients with this type of breast cancer receive the same type of treatment as patients with other subtypes of the disease, but some patients with ILC don’t respond as well to endocrine therapy. We hope improved understanding of the disease will lead to better, targeted treatment for patients.”

In addition to the grants awarded this year, the BCRF provided the initial funding for the Women’s Cancer Research Center.
“Without the support of the BCRF, our breast cancer research wouldn’t be nearly as robust as it is,” said Dr. Davidson. “We share the vision of a future free of breast cancer, and this funding will bring us one step closer to that goal.”

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