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Komen grants bolster breast cancer research

Aug. 15, 2013, 10:25 AM

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center investigators are receiving $1 million in breast cancer research grant funds from Susan G. Komen, the largest nonprofit foundation supporting breast cancer research.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of VICC and professor of Biochemistry, has been awarded $225,000 to further her study of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), an especially aggressive form of the disease with a poor survival rate. Pietenpol, who is a Komen Scholar, and her colleagues previously identified six subtypes of TNBC, along with specific chemotherapy treatments that are more effective for some subtypes of the disease. The group is initiating clinical trials aimed at identifying new biomarkers that can help guide treatment decisions for patients with TNBC.

Brian Lehmann, Ph.D.

Brian Lehmann, Ph.D., will receive a $450,000 grant in support of his cancer research. Lehmann, research assistant professor of Biochemistry working in Pietenpol’s laboratory, is investigating the role of the male sex hormone androgen in breast cancer subtypes. While the female estrogen hormone drives tumor growth in the majority of breast cancers, the androgen receptor is also present in more than 60 percent of breast cancers. Lehmann is trying to determine if drugs that target the androgen receptor will increase the effectiveness of estrogen receptor inhibitor drugs or if they could be used in patients whose tumors have become resistant to anti-estrogen drugs.

Komen has also awarded two grants to Carlos Arteaga, M.D., director of the Center for Cancer Targeted Therapies (CCTT) and associate director for clinical research at VICC.

Carlos Arteaga, M.D.

The first award provides $250,000 to collect and study residual breast cancers that remain after neoadjuvant treatment, in hopes of discovering novel biomarkers and mechanisms of drug resistance. By identifying these molecular alterations, new therapies may be developed for immediate use after surgery to target breast cancers that are still present as micrometastases and eliminate them.

The second grant provides $75,000 for initiation and support of a Neoadjuvant Therapy Consortium between VICC and the Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Neoplásicas (INEN) in Lima, Perú, a center of clinical research excellence in South America.

These collaborative efforts will also focus on molecular discovery in neoadjuvant trials.

Arteaga is a member of the Komen Scientific Advisory Board.

“We are especially grateful to Susan G. Komen and the Komen Greater Nashville Affiliate for their continued support of our translational breast cancer research at Vanderbilt-Ingram,” said Pietenpol. “These are significant grant awards that will advance our understanding of the underlying causes of breast cancer and allow us to develop more effective treatments for patients worldwide.”

The Komen Greater Nashville Affiliate has invested more than $4 million in community breast cancer programs in 11 counties in the past 12 years.

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