• Driven by Her Grandmother’s Loss, This Researcher is Seeking a Targeted Treatment Option for the Most Challenging Breast Cancers

    Personal Stories, Headlines & Helpful Information, Research, Dollars Making A Difference


    The progress made by research into breast cancer has been stunning over the more than three decades since Susan G. Komen’s founding.  A key turning point was the early discovery that breast cancer is not one disease, but rather a family of diseases each with unique characteristics that provide a multitude of opportunities and challenges for researchers.

    Thanks to our growing knowledge, new therapies and targeted treatments have been developed that are improving survivability for many people and have replaced the one-size-fits-all treatments Suzy Komen faced.  

    Yet despite all our advances, more than 41,000 people in the U.S. die from breast cancer each year.  While there are a variety of reasons for this tragic statistic, one contributing factor is that we do not yet have a good targeted therapy for one particularly aggressive form of the disease – triple negative breast cancer.

    Approximately 15-20% of all breast cancers are diagnosed as triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).  They are a group of breast cancers that get their name for what they are not. In other words, TNBC lacks the three receptors –estrogen (ER), progesterone (PR) and human epidermal growth factor 2 (HER2)—that are present in a majority of breast cancer tumors. Tumors that test positive for these receptors can be treated with several current therapies, but because TNBC lacks all three receptors, treatment options are limited. Triple negative tumors cannot be treated with hormone therapy or HER2 targeted therapies. TNBC is also more likely to effect young women, African-American women and people with a BRCA1 gene mutation.

    Today, PARP inhibitors -- drugs that impede an enzyme called poly ADP ribose polymerase, or PARP – are used to treat people with BRCA mutant TNBC. However, certain tumors are cunning and can hijack the immune system, causing drug resistance. When PARP inhibitors stop working, TNBC tumors are more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

    Dr. Jennifer Guerriero, Ph.D, believes this is unacceptable and is committed to finding scientific breakthroughs to help combat this terrible disease. Dr. Guerriero has a personal connection to breast cancer: her grandmother was diagnosed with the disease in 1982.  She was inspired by her grandmother’s will to live, determination and advocacy work, which ultimatelyinformed her decision to pursue a career in breast cancer research. Unfortunately, her grandmother passed away in 2014, but Dr. Guerriero carries her grandmother’s memory with her as she searches for better ways to treat breast cancer and increase patient survival.

    An Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Breast Tumor Immunology Laboratory at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Dr. Guerriero is currently investigating ways to improve treatment response for people with TNBC that also have a BRCA gene mutation. Thanks to funding from Komen, she seeks to target macrophages, a type of immune cell, to improve response to PARP inhibitor drugs and improve patient survival. Breast tumors generally have many macrophages, and certain macrophage types help tumors grow.  In her pre-clinical research, Dr. Guerriero found that targeting macrophages in BRCA-mutant TNBC improved overall survival.  Ultimately, she hopes her research will eventually lead to new treatments targeting macrophages to treat people with TNBC.

    Dr. Guerriero’s research is made possible by the generosity of people like you. Help us fund her research by donating here. Are You In? 

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