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Cancer Center investigators awarded Komen grants

Oct. 11, 2018, 9:28 AM

by Tom Wilemon

Four Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) investigators have received financial support from Susan G. Komen for breast cancer research.

Komen Scholar Ingrid Mayer, MD, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, will receive $600,000 to study genomic changes from surgically removed breast cancer tissue and blood samples with circulating tumor DNA, both before and after treatment.

Identifying these changes will lead to factors that predict chemotherapy resistance, recurrence and relapse-free survival.

Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and director of VICC, will receive $400,000 to lead a clinical trial for patients with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer. The trial will evaluate the efficacy of cisplatin, a DNA damaging agent, and a drug called GDC-0032. The trial will develop a set of genetic biomarkers to predict sensitivity or resistance to these therapies.

Justin Balko, PhD, PharmD, will receive $300,000 to determine ways to improve treatment response to anti-PD-1, an immunotherapy drug that boosts the immune response against cancer. Preliminary findings show that patients who have high levels of a protein called MHC-II respond well to anti-PD-1, whereas patients with low MHC-II levels do not. This work should help identify which patients are likely to benefit from anti-PD-1 and should help ensure patients who will benefit the most receive the treatment.

Alex Cheng, PhD, and his mentor, Komen Scholar Mia Levy, MD, PhD, Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research, will receive $225,734 to analyze electronic health records, SEER Medicare, prescription, claims and patient survey data to assess the burden of breast cancer treatment on patients and test whether tailoring treatment plans to reduce patient burden can lead to better outcomes for those breast cancer patients.

“We are using electronic health records from sites around the U.S. to characterize the work that patients put into their care after diagnosis,” Cheng said.

“We are also developing a survey instrument to assess treatment burden and capacity to manage care for use in clinical decision support. The goal is to help patients and providers make care plans that are personalized to their ability to manage treatment.”

More than 41,000 women and men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer.

Susan G. Komen has set a goal to reduce the number of breast cancer deaths in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2026.

The nonprofit has funded more breast cancer research initiatives than any other organization outside the federal government.

This round of grants was for nearly $26 million. This year, the foundation’s competitive grant program for young investigators was entirely focused on drug resistance and metastatic disease.

“Komen continues its long-standing investment in the next generation of scientists to ensure that brilliant researchers whose careers are just beginning have funding to pursue their novel ideas,” said Pietenpol, who serves as a Komen Chief Scientific Advisor. “We are proud that this investment includes opportunities for 23 innovative and inspired researchers to lead the way in making breast cancer discoveries that will improve care for all and help save lives.”

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