By: Dr. Charles Perou
2016 Brinker Award Winner
Established by Komen in 1992, the Brinker Awards for Scientific Distinction recognize the efforts of pioneers in two critically important areas of the fight to end breast cancer: Clinical Research and Basic Science. This year’s winners join the ranks of an esteemed group of scientists who have been recognized for advancing breast cancer research and medicine with the Brinker Awards – the highest scientific honor awarded by Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization.
We recently spoke with Dr. Charles Perou, winner of the 2016 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science, about his career in breast cancer research.
Charles Perou, Ph.D., winner of the 2016 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science
1. How could your research help individuals facing breast cancer today and in years to come?
My research has focused on developing a biologically based classification of breast cancer, which can be used to inform additional research and clinical medicine. Our novel classification, called the intrinsic subtypes of breast cancer, identifies sets of patients who share genetic and genomic characteristics, which then allows us to make accurate outcome predictions that can influence treatment options. I feel these approaches are an important means of advancing personalized medicine through the identification of the dominant driving biology of each individuals tumor.
2. What made you decide to focus your research on applying genomics to characterize breast cancer?
I have many topics that I am interested in, and so I am not sure I am focused! With that said, I have had a long-standing interest in the genetic and genomic determinants of human disease, and it was this focus that I brought to my breast cancer research.
Dr. Charles Perou
3. What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in your career?
One of the great challenges I have had to address is the challenge of doing multidisciplinary research, particularly from the funding perspective. Multidisciplinary research is a current emphasis of modern research, but the practical aspects of this are still lagging behind in that those striving to do multidisciplinary research are often labeled as “non-experts.” We as a community need to appreciate that multidisciplinary research means that one is often going into a new area, and that being a non-expert is not a fatal flaw, and in fact, is a means of bringing new ideas to an old table. I have gone into fields I never imagined, like clinical research, epidemiology, and biostatistics, and each time there were roadblocks; however, the rewards of learning new things and contributing to new fields far outweigh the barriers and I can only encourage others to move into new disciplines if they feel that this is the direction they should go.
4. What is, in your opinion, the most recent progress in breast cancer research that patients should be aware of?
I would say there are at least three major categories of advances that patients should pay attention to: first, new and promising therapies; I would include CDK4/6 inhibitors, chromatin modifying agents, and immune therapies in this category. Second, advances in genomics and genetics, where we can now use an ever-increasing number of validated gene expression tests for prognostic and predictive purposes, and where we can use DNA sequencing to assess risk and assist in therapeutic decision-making. The third category is new blood-based tests for disease detection and the monitoring of disease burden; these new assays, many of which are based upon DNA sequencing, are quite promising and could become important tools for measuring and monitoring disease.
5. What would you predict will be the next big breakthrough for breast cancer patients?
I am not sure there is going to be one single big breakthrough, but instead, a good number of major advances that in total will impact patient care and improve outcomes. This hypothesis is why we need to support a diverse set of research approaches because there are so many disciplines where we are making an impact including genomics, proteomics, new drugs, imaging, and in understanding germline susceptibility. All of these together are the next major breakthrough.
6. What does receiving the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science mean to you?
This award means the world to me. First and foremost it is gratifying that patients and advocates think this highly of my work because it is these individuals I am working for. Receiving an award like this is a lifetime dream and honor, and I am truly thankful to Susan G. Komen for honoring me in this way. This award gives me more energy to work harder to achieve a cure.
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