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Susan G. Komen funds VICC breast cancer initiatives

Jul. 15, 2021, 10:22 AM


by Tom Wilemon

Susan G. Komen has announced breast cancer research grants totaling $14 million, including funding for three separate initiatives led by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) researchers.

The funding focused on two key areas — research to better detect and treat stage IV metastatic breast cancer and research to eliminate disparities in breast cancer outcomes. The grants to VICC researchers totaled $1.2 million.

“We are extremely proud to be able to continue our legacy of leading investments in breast cancer research, especially in light of the challenges all nonprofits faced raising funds during this pandemic year,” said Paula Schneider, president and CEO of Susan G. Komen and a breast cancer survivor.

“This investment reinforces our commitment to funding innovative science from some of the leading minds in breast cancer research while also developing the next generation of scientists at a time when we have never needed them more.”

Tuya Pal, MD, associate director of Cancer Health Disparities at VICC and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, received funding to offer an educational tool for genetic counseling to young Black women with breast cancer and evaluate outcomes in genetic testing attitudes. Pal, who was recently named a Komen Scholar, will also examine breast tumor samples and outcomes from Black and non-Hispanic white women to better understand how inherited mutations contribute to disparate breast cancer outcomes. The goal of this project is to better understand how genetic testing for inherited mutations in breast cancer genes can potentially reduce disparities in breast cancer outcomes for Black women.

Ben Ho Park, MD, PhD, Cornelius Abernathy Craig Professor of Medicine and director of the Division of Hematology and Oncology, will use preclinical models to validate and test how a mutated protein, SF3B1, can serve as a target for breast cancer immunotherapy. The goal of this project is to develop and pilot a new precision therapy option for breast cancer patients. Park is a Komen Scholar.

Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, director of VICC and Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Benjamin F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and holder of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development, will use patient samples from a clinical trial in combination with preclinical models to better understand how metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) can be targeted and treated by a combination of chemotherapies and immunotherapy. The goal of this project is to uncover new, subtype-specific therapy combinations to personalize treatments for patients with TNBC. Pietenpol serves as one of Komen’s two Chief Scientific Advisors.

Komen has invested about $1.1 billion in research in the nearly 40 years since its founding, the largest collective investment of any breast cancer nonprofit, and second only to the U.S. government.

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