City of Hope is boosting two projects from creative research teams that aim to fight breast cancer in different ways: one by studying biomarkers that might identify high-risk tumors, and another by understanding how aspirin might prevent cancer or keep it from progressing.
The two breast cancer research pilot projects were chosen for funding at a recent Women’s Cancers Program retreat. Each collaborative team earned $25,000 from City of Hope to support its research.
Biomarkers and cancer spread
Physicians and scientists discuss research project ideas at a Women’s Cancers Program retreat (Photo by Roberta Nichols)
One team, led by Laura Kruper, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery and head of the Breast Surgery Service, will investigate breast cancer tumors and whether certain biomarkers (substances found within tumors) are associated with metastasis, or cancer spread. They also will study whether certain biomarkers are associated with breast cancer spread to specific organs such as the brain, liver, lungs and bone.
If the scientists find that women with certain biomarkers are at higher risk for seeing their breast cancer spread, researchers eventually may be able to identify these patients before they start therapy. They also may discover new targets for drugs.
Kruper’s team will use City of Hope’s biospecimen repository, which houses tissue samples from more than 3,000 breast cancer patients. The researchers will compare specimens from patients who developed metastases with samples from those who did not.
Other members of this team include Jinha Park, M.D., Ph.D., Susan Kane, Ph.D., Helene Zonder, R.N., M.S.N., F.N.P., Yuan-Zhong Wang, Ph.D., Saul Priceman, Ph.D., Noriko Kanaya, Ph.D., D.V.M., Josh Neman, Ph.D., Christina Dieli-Conwright, Ph.D., M.S., and Jessica Clague, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Aspirin against cancer
Another team, led by Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology, will start its studies on aspirin in the lab. Researchers aim to confirm that aspirin can suppress the expression of aromatase, a substance in the body that can help the body create estrogen. Since most breast cancers need estrogen to grow, blocking aromatase has proven to be a powerful way to treat breast cancer.
The researchers also will study how aspirin’s ability to fight inflammation might keep breast cancer cells from proliferating.
Using the California Teachers Study, an ongoing study tracking the health of more than 133,000 women, the team also will look at how use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs affect women’s breast cancer risk and survival.
If they confirm that aspirin prevents breast cancer and reduces breast cancer progression, they will have identified an inexpensive, accessible method to reduce breast cancer risk. Such a discovery might provide particular benefits to women from underserved populations.
This team also includes Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., Carlotta Glackin, Ph.D., Michael Weiss, Bob Hickey, Ph.D., Virginia Sun, Ph.D., R.N., M.S.N., N.P., Deborah MacDonald, Ph.D., R.N., A.P.N.G., and Sunita Patel, Ph.D., and Yi-Jen Chen, M.D., Ph.D.
The two research teams were among five groups that created proposals and presented them to judges at the October 2011 retreat in Pasadena, Calif. For more about work under way on women’s cancers at City of Hope, visit www.cityofhope.org/womenscancers.