May 20, 2005

Komen award to boost breast cancer research

Featured Image

Melinda Sanders, M.D.

Komen award to boost breast cancer research

Melinda E. Sanders, M.D., assistant professor of Pathology, has received a translational research award from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. The three-year, $250,000 grant will support Sanders' efforts to discover new biomarkers for breast cancer diagnosis and prognosis as well as new therapeutic targets.

Sanders and colleagues are taking a proteomic approach — they will use mass spectrometry techniques to analyze protein expression patterns in breast cancer.

By comparing cancerous and normal mammary tissue, they hope to discover the proteins that are unique to breast cancer. The team also plans to compare protein profiles of various types of cancerous tissue, for example invasive versus non-invasive, and the connective tissue surrounding breast tumors versus normal breast tissue.

“Proteomic expression in breast cancer is highly understudied,” Sanders said. “This is a high-risk, high-reward project which should be of extraordinary benefit in breast cancer research.”

One of the problems in current breast cancer treatment, Sanders said, is that adjuvant chemotherapy is recommended for the majority of women with localized breast cancer regardless of lymph node or hormone receptor status.

While adjuvant chemotherapy improves long-term, relapse-free and overall survival, careful examination of clinical trial data suggests that nearly 80 percent of women with lymph node-negative breast cancer would have survived in the absence of adjuvant therapy, she said.

Since the side effects of chemotherapy, including premature menopause, thromboembolic events, memory loss and fatigue, are significant, biomarkers are needed to better guide the decision for adjuvant chemotherapy, Sanders said.

One advantage of the group's mass spectrometry-based proteomic approach, she added, is that it permits identification of protein markers without preconceived knowledge of the target protein.

“We're very excited about the potential of these studies,” Sanders said. “The ability to apply the results of this work to clinical tissue samples holds the promise to revolutionize diagnostic and prognostic information which can be provided to clinicians to help customize therapy to individual patients.”

Sanders earned her M.D. from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1995 and served her internship and residency in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology at The University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. She joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2001.

The Komen Foundation is one of the nation's largest private funding sources for breast health and breast cancer research.