Breast CAncer REsearch at UNC Lineberger
comprehensive cancer center
Senior Executive Director of Development & Communications
UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
UNC Medicine Development
On behalf of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, I am very pleased to report on the great progress our scientists and care providers are making in the fight against breast cancer thanks to the incredible efforts of the Chapel Hill Breast Cancer Foundation. Last year, the foundation contributed $21,935 to advance research conducted through our breast cancer research program. Since these passionate volunteers started this unique fundraising effort in 2000, the program has generated nearly $250,000 to fund research at UNC Lineberger!
UNC Lineberger scientists and care providers work together every day to provide patients with “today’s best care and tomorrow’s best hope.” Philanthropic commitment and community initiatives like this one are key ingredients in our efforts to integrate care and research. Not only is the money raised important in funding our progress, it is inspiring for patients, care providers and scientists all to know that their fight is supported by a passionate community. Thank you!
Here are a few breast cancer research highlights from the past year:
UNC Lineberger Researchers Identify Genetic ‘Seeds’
of Metastatic Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States, with most deaths caused by the cancer spreading beyond the breast. In a new study, University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have identified genetic clues that explain how breast cancer spreads, or metastasizes – findings that may lead to better treatments or approaches to prevent its spread at the onset.
In the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers published their analysis of the genetic differences they discovered in patients’ primary breast cancers and their metastatic cancers. By understanding how breast cancer metastases evolve, researchers hope to better explain how they occur. This insight could reveal new approaches in the treatment and prevention of metastatic breast cancer.
“This was a very difficult study to do, but it allowed us to take a snapshot of both the primary tumor, and the tumor after it had spread, in order to trace its evolution,” said the study’s first author Marni Siegel, a graduate student in the UNC MD/PhD program.
Using data drawn from the UNC-Chapel Hill Breast Cancer Tumor Donation Program, the researchers analyzed DNA and the gene expression patterns in both the primary tumor and matched metastatic cancers from 16 patients. One of the major findings was that the cancer typically did not spread outside the breast as a single cell. Instead, researchers found that, based on the genetic patterns, a collection of cells most likely broke away.
Studies Show Genetic Factors in Breast Cancer Survival Gap
Between Black, White Women
UNC Lineberger’s Chuck Perou and Melissa Troester were collaborators on two major studies last year that examined genetic factors underlying the survival gap for black women with breast cancer compared with white women. Both studies found that black women are more likely to get an aggressive breast cancer type.
A large, multi-institutional study published in JAMA Oncology showed that, although the odds of developing breast cancer are nearly identical for black and white women, black women are 42 percent more likely to die from the disease. This mortality gap – driven by social and environmental, as well as biological factors – continues to persist.
The study was designed to understand this gap by beginning to unravel the germline genetic variations and tumor biological differences between black and white women with breast cancer. This is the first “ancestry-based comprehensive analysis of multiple platforms of genomic and proteomic data of its kind,” the authors note.
Findings from this study could lead to more personalized risk assessment for women of African heritage and hasten the development of novel approaches designed to diagnose specific subtypes of aggressive breast cancers early and treat them effectively.
The second study showed that a higher proportion of aggressive breast cancer subtypes are seen in black women, University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have found. The study findings help to explain a gap in mortality that exists between black and white women with breast cancer, and could lead to improved treatment approaches to help close it.
In the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers published results of an analysis of approximately 1,000 invasive breast tumors. The study confirmed that young black women are more likely to have “triple negative,” or “basal-like,” breast cancers, a subtype that does not express any of the receptors for targeted biologic therapies. The study also identified variation by race within a clinical breast cancer type that has the greatest mortality disparity. Specifically, the researchers found that younger black women with hormone-receptor positive, HER2-negative breast cancer were more likely to have a high risk of recurrence score.
Researchers Unlock Mechanism of Drug Resistance
in Aggressive Breast Cancer
Breast cancer cells are evasive, finding ways to bypass drugs designed to stop their unchecked growth. In a new study, researchers uncovered a mechanism of resistance used by a particularly aggressive breast cancer type, and revealed a possible drug combination that could stop cancer growth and also help to prevent resistance.
In the journal Cancer Discovery, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers and colleagues report findings of just how triple negative breast cancer cells are able to bypass treatment with trametinib, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug that belongs to a class of commonly used anti-cancer drugs called kinase inhibitors. The researchers also reported findings from laboratory models of breast cancer testing a potential treatment approach that could prevent the onset of resistance.
“Tumor cells are extremely adaptive and responsive. When you treat patients with kinase inhibitors there is often a strong initial arrest of tumor growth, but, invariably, resistance develops,” said Gary L. Johnson, PhD, a UNC Lineberger member and Kenan Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology. “What we found is that tumor resistance to this type of drug involves what we call ‘adaptive reprogramming’ of the genome. But we learned how to arrest the adaptive reprogramming and make the tumor remain vulnerable to the drug. Thus, we blocked the onset of resistance.”
Where your donations go
100% of the funds donated to the Chapel Hill Breast Cancer Foundation go directly to supporting discovery phase breast cancer research projects at Duke, UNC and Wake Forest Universities.
Your past donations are making a difference today.
Today's donations will make a difference tomorrow.