Headlines & Helpful Information, Research, Leadership
By: Sean Tuffnell
Each year the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium brings researchers, advocates, clinicians and industry from around the world together to highlight the latest research discoveries and to discuss the critical issues facing the breast cancer community. And each year, one of the highlights of the conference is the honoring of two respected researchers with the Susan G. Komen Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction.
This year, the 2018 Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research was presented to Eric Winer, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs, Director, Breast Cancer Program; Thompson Chair in Breast Cancer Research, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA.
Dr. Winer was honored for his devotion to applying the advances from clinical trials to daily practice to improve breast cancer patient care and quality of life. He has designed and conducted a wide array of clinical trials that have changed clinical practice or paved the way toward more personalized treatment of breast cancer. His career has focused on optimizing the treatment of breast cancer for specific patient populations.
His clinical research has included multimodality studies to determine optimal drug doses and treatment durations, the best treatment sequence and the most effective drug combinations to treat early, locally advanced and metastatic breast cancers.
We had an opportunity to visit with Dr. Winer about his work and this recognition.
Q. How could your research help individuals facing breast cancer today and in years to come?
A. As breast cancer doctors, our two greatest challenges are finding better treatments to help prevent the 41,000 deaths from breast cancer in the U.S. every year, and figuring out who, on the other end of the spectrum, is getting exposed to needless risk and toxicity. My research is directed towards identifying better treatments for patients with breast cancer. For some patients, we need to find more effective treatments, but for many others we need to sort out which treatments are unnecessary, so we can spare her the side effects from cancer treatment.
Q. What made you decide to pursue a career in breast cancer research?
A. It was both deliberate and by chance. One of my favorite aunts died of breast cancer in the 1970s. This is what initially drew me to the disease, and I wrote my medical school thesis on the use of chemotherapy in patients with breast cancer. Then by chance, when I was a fellow at Duke, there was an opening for a breast cancer doctor and I immediately took the position.
Q. What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in your career?
A. My own health issues were the biggest challenge I faced throughout my career. Despite these challenges I decided that the key, for me, was to pursue my work with vigor and it has been enormously satisfying. I love taking care of patients, conducting research, teaching, mentoring and being a leader.
Q. What is, in your opinion, the most recent advance in breast cancer research that patients should be aware of?
A. The most important recent findings relate to the plethora of new treatments available to patients. Breast cancer treatment today is not the breast cancer treatment our mothers and grandmothers experienced. There are new treatments that are leading to longer survival and true improvements in quality of life. And there are more people being cured than ever before.
Q. What would you predict will be the next big breakthrough for breast cancer patients?
A. I think we are going to make advances in immunotherapy, particularly for triple negative breast cancer. In ER+ and HER2+ breast cancer, we will be able to identify patients who could do well with even less therapy and be selectively backing off on treatment in lower risk patients. We are also rapidly developing a whole range of treatments for all women with breast cancer.
Q. What does receiving the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research mean to you?
A. I am truly touched and honored. I have not pursued my career with the goal of winning awards, and it is humbling to be recognized. Moreover, given my close relationship with Susan G. Komen and with Nancy Brinker herself, it is particularly sweet to receive this award.
Q. Komen’s Bold Goal is to reduce the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50% in the U.S. within the next decade. As a Brinker Awardee, could you describe how your work will get us closer to our goal?
A. I hope my work will play a part in the progress toward the Bold Goal, but it will take many researchers to reduce deaths by 50%. I will continue to work to develop new and better treatments for breast cancer patients. At the same time, we need to recognize that health care disparities are a major issue and we all must strive to eliminate disparities, so all breast cancer patients get the care they need.
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