Two Physicians Earn Grants from Breast Cancer Research Foundation

September 19, 2017 | by Katie Neith

Arti Hurria Arti Hurria, M.D., geriatrician and oncologist at City of Hope
Tragically, Dr. Hurria passed away following a car accident in November 2018.
Two City of Hope physicians have received year-long grants from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), an organization that works to prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world's most promising research.
Targeting Chemo Toxicity in Older Adults
Arti Hurria, M.D., geriatrician and oncologist at City of Hope and director of its Center for Cancer and Aging, has been granted $250,000 for her study called “The Association between Biomarkers of Aging and Chemotherapy Toxicity in Older Patients with Breast Cancer.”
Hurria, The George Tsai Family Chair in Geriatric Oncology, specializes in treating patients who are 65 and older and her research program seeks to benefit that same population, which accounts for 60 percent of new cancer cases and approximately 70 percent of cancer-related deaths.
She and her team have spent nearly a decade identifying predictors of chemotherapy toxicity in older patients with cancer, and have created a tool that predicts that risk by considering certain clinical, laboratory and geriatric assessment factors such as a patient’s height and weight, functional status, hemoglobin levels and more.
They are now developing a breast cancer-specific chemotherapy toxicity calculator and the BCRF-funded research project will build on this work by looking at the potential association between genetic and epigenetic biomarkers of chemotherapy toxicity.
“Specifically, we will be looking at DNA methylation levels, often called the ‘epigenetic clock,’ which is predictive of chronological age and mortality,” said Hurria. “We will also look at genetic mechanisms that have been studied in the context of understanding the biology of aging. These epigenetic and genetic biomarkers of aging may also be predictive of the risk of chemotherapy toxicity among older adults with breast cancer.”
The goal of Hurria’s research is to minimize the risks for chemotherapy toxicity and functional decline for older adults with cancer while maximizing the potential benefit of chemotherapy. There is currently no standard tool in oncology practice that incorporates clinical and biological factors to identify older adults with breast cancer who may be more vulnerable to these adverse events.
“By identifying potential biomarkers of this vulnerability to chemotherapy toxicity, we can have more informed, shared decision-making with patients and deliver truly personalized care,” said Hurria. “Ultimately, this research can serve as a foundation upon which to both identify older adults at risk for chemotherapy toxicity and to guide interventions to decrease this risk.”
Identifying Genetic Mutations in Hispanic Women
Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., director of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics at City of Hope, has also received $250,000 for his study, Genetic Cancer Risk and Breast Cancer Prevention in Latin American Populations.”
Jeffrey Weitzel Jeffery Weitzel, M.D., director of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics at City of Hope
Weitzel led groundbreaking studies that revealed that BRCA gene mutations — which indicate a higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer — may be present in 15 to 25 percent of U.S. Hispanic women with breast cancer at a young age, leading to calls for increased genetic testing and counseling.
Now, his international BCRF-funded project is making additional observations about BRCA mutations among Latin American women, while helping key sites in Latin America create an infrastructure of genetic counseling clinicians for cancer risk assessment, along with low-cost genetic testing tools. Breast cancer is among the most common cancers and the leading causes of cancer death in Hispanic women.
“Identifying women at the highest risk for breast cancer allows for limited clinical resources to be focused where they are needed most to both detect breast cancer earlier and prevent the disease,” said Weitzel.
He added that he and his research team have made great advances in training doctors and opening cancer genetics studies in Lima, Peru; Guadalajare and Monterrey, Mexico; and both Bogota and Medellin, Colombia. A new site in Mexico City has completed regulatory submission and is awaiting approval.
Continued BCRF support from this latest grant will facilitate research and training to deliver and evaluate sustainable adapted genomic cancer risk assessment protocols while also helping to implement cost-efficient genetic/genomic tools that address an international disparity in access to precision medicine.  
“If not for BCRF, we would not have made significant progress toward addressing breast cancer treatment and prevention disparities by building critical infrastructure and characterizing the genetic epidemiology of breast cancer in Latin America,” said Weitzel. 

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