• Early Career Investigators: The Next Generation of Breast Cancer Researchers

    Research, Dollars Making A Difference

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    Each year, more than 42,000 people in the U.S. are expected to die from breast cancer. This is unacceptable. That’s why Komen has established a Bold Goal to cut the current number of deaths in the U.S. in half by 2026.  This is an important step to achieving our ultimate vision of a world without breast cancer.

    To achieve our Bold Goal, we need new tools and treatments for the most aggressive and deadly breast cancers, including metastatic breast cancer and breast cancer that has become resistant to standard treatments. Komen is also committed to supporting the most promising early career investigators, ensuring there is a strong research workforce to continue the fight against breast cancer for years to come.

    As part of Komen’s $32 million investment in new and continuing research in 2018, nearly $10 million was awarded to the next generation of breast cancer research leaders. These 23 young scientists are working towards breakthroughs for people with metastatic breast cancer and drug resistance.

    Komen funded grants to support research projects focused on cutting edge breast cancer therapies, such as immunotherapy.  Once considered by many to have no role in breast cancer treatment, immunotherapy uses a person’s own defenses to attack cancer cells.  Immunotherapy has shown so much promise that the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to the pioneers of this field. Now many of our early career investigators are harnessing the power of immunotherapy to attack breast cancer.

    With Komen’s support, Dr. Jennifer Guerriero at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is working to understand how the immune system can be used to improve a person’s response to a cancer therapy called PARP inhibitor drugs. Dr. Guerriero’s work is driven by the memory of her grandmother, who passed away in 2014. The memory of her grandmother inspired her to find better ways to treat breast cancer. You can learn more about Dr. Guerriero’s research, and contribute to her work here.

    Dr. Jennifer Guerriero

    In addition to laboratory studies, Komen is supporting clinical trials that aim to determine how immunotherapy could be used to improve outcomes in people with breast cancer. For example, Dr. Shom Goel, also from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is studying how the immune system responds to drugs that inhibit special enzymes, called CDK4 and CDK6.  These enzymes are important in cell division, and the drugs are designed to interrupt the growth of cancer cells.  His work will determine if immunotherapy could help people overcome resistance to CDK4/6 inhibitors. 

    Dr. Shom Goel

    Several other Komen-supported investigators have focused their efforts on metastatic, or stage IV, breast cancer.  These researchers are looking at new ways to prevent and treat people with metastatic disease or find new approaches for those who have developed resistance to existing therapies.

    Most of the more than 42,000 breast cancer deaths expected each year in the U.S. are caused by metastatic disease. Dr. Rebecca Watters, from the University of Pittsburgh, is inspired by her husband’s grandmother’s fight with metastatic breast cancer. Dr. Watters is looking for new treatments for people whose breast cancer has spread to their bones. Her studies are identifying the genes that cause the spread of breast cancer specifically to the bone. She will test drugs that target these genes as potential treatments for bone metastases. This work will provide important ground work for new treatments for those living with breast cancer that has spread to the bone.

    Many investigators are looking for new drug targets to treat triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), a form of breast cancer with limited treatment options.  Among them, Dr. Robert Faryabi at the University of Pennsylvania is using “Big Data” approaches that include bringing together large sets of different data to better understand how a protein called Notch drives TNBC and causes drug resistance. You can learn more about Dr. Faryabi’s research, and contribute to his work here.

    These exciting studies are only a sample of the groundbreaking work being done by our latest class of early career investigators. By supporting these future leaders who are using the latest technology to find new ways to attack breast cancer, we are taking the lead in finding the next breakthrough for people with breast cancer.

    We have a lot of work ahead, and, with your generous support, we continue to support best science and researchers to help us reach our Bold Goal!

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