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Komen Scholars: Drivers in Breast Cancer Disparities Research

Dr. Rena Pasick:  Development of a Culturally Competent Curriculum on Hereditary Breast Cancer
DrRenaPasick.pngDr. Rena Pasick, Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and Komen Scholar, has dedicated her academic career to health promotion across cultures, specifically the study of culture in cancer communication and cancer-related behavior. She is using the funds from her Komen Scholar Grant to understand the barriers to communicating the importance of risk assessment to ethnically diverse, low-income women. Specifically, Dr. Pasick has developed a culturally competent curriculum that educates women from African American communities about hereditary breast cancer through church health ministries. In the first two years of her grant, Dr. Pasick has tested and optimized the curriculum for the target population. Dr. Pasick will expand delivery of this culturally competent message of the benefits of genetic risk assessment to ten church programs within the next two years. At the end of the grant term, Dr. Pasick’s program will promote African American women’s knowledge of hereditary breast cancer, which will empower them to seek and receive the standard of care they deserve.


Dr. Olufunmilayo “Funmi” Olopade:  Identification of New Mutations in Established Breast Cancer-Related Genes
DrOlufunmilayo.pngDr. Olufunmilayo “Funmi” Olopade, Director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics and Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago and Komen Scholar, has a special interest in women of African descent, who are at higher risk for the more aggressive breast cancer and more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age. Dr. Olopade is using the funds from her Komen Scholar grant to identify the genetic mutations that make women of African ancestry more likely to develop early onset breast cancers. In the first two years of her grant, Dr. Olopade has found that the number of breast cancer patients with BRCA mutations is higher in Nigerian women than in Caucasian American women, and many of the women in the Nigerian population had rare BRCA mutations, as opposed to the ones that have been commonly identified in breast cancer patients in the United States. These results demonstrate a need to sequence the BRCA genes instead of only testing for recurrent (common) mutations; current genetic tests only check for the most common BRCA mutations and the less common mutations may be overlooked. In the coming year, Dr. Olopade will be focusing on the disproportionate number of triple negative breast cancer cases that arise in the African American population.

Dr. Thea Tlsty:  Unraveling the Architecture of Breast Cancer
DrTheaTlsty.pngDr. Thea Tlsty, Director of the Program in Cell Cycling and Signaling and Professor of Pathology at the University of California, San Francisco and Komen Scholar, studies the genetic and functional changes involved in the earliest steps of breast cancer. She is using the funds from her Komen Scholar grant to define how the different cells in the breast influence breast cancer development and malignancy, which may contribute to the higher rate of breast cancer deaths in African American women when compared to Caucasian American women. Specifically, Dr. Tlsty is studying the genetics of two types of cells isolated from the breast tissue of African American and Caucasian American women: fibroblasts and a rare population of breast epithelial cells that are associated with breast cancer malignancy. In the last two years, Dr. Tlsty has identified different genetic fingerprints in breast epithelial cells from African American and Caucasian American women. In the next year, she will characterize the differential genetic and physical responses of breast cells from African American and Caucasian American women to DNA damaging agents. These experiments will help determine the role that the tissue surrounding breast tumors play in the differential malignancy of breast cancers in African American and Caucasian American women.