2 researchers (one on aging, one on genetics) get breast cancer grants

October 21, 2014 | by Darrin Joy

Advanced age tops the list among breast cancer risk factor for women. Not far behind is family history and genetics. Two City of Hope researchers delving deep into these issues recently received important grants to advance their studies.

Arti Hurria, M.D., director of the Cancer and Aging Research Program, and Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., chief of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, recently each received $240,000 in breast cancer grants from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). The studies aim to improve treatment and outcomes for older women and for Latino women at risk of hereditary breast cancer.

Cancer researchers Arti Hurria and Jeffrey Weitzel receive breast cancer grants City of Hope researchers Arti Hurria and Jeffrey Weitzel each received breast cancer grants of $240,000 from the BCRF.

Breast cancer and age

Hurria’s renewal grant supports her efforts to understand how chemotherapy affects older adults with breast cancer. Even though women age 65 and older account for nearly half of all new U.S. breast cancer cases, little information is available to guide clinicians in their choices of chemotherapy for these women.

In the original study funded by the BCRF, Hurria and her team began studying older breast cancer patients and their reactions to chemotherapy. Aside from shedding light on side effects, they also wanted to develop a tool that will help clinicians predict who is most likely to react poorly to the drugs. To do this, they’ve begun tracking 500 patients at numerous centers around the country from before they receive chemotherapy until their treatment ends. They’ll compare how these patients fare to similar, healthy women as well as to other patients who do not receive chemotherapy.

Hurria’s new grant will add to this ongoing study, allowing the team to follow patients’ progress for two to three years after initial assessment.

“We want to understand how breast cancer and treatment impact patients on a daily basis and what lasting effects they might encounter in their survivorship years,” Hurria said.

Ultimately, the research will help inform treatment decisions in older adults with breast cancer and guide each patient on ways to maintain or even improve physical health, she added.

Genetic testing for Hispanic women

Genetic testing for the BRCA gene mutations — which greatly increase a woman’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers — is widely available to women in developed countries. In most of Latin America and Mexico, it isn’t. This is troubling because as many as 25 percent of these women may have BRCA mutations, according to Weitzel’s research.

Weitzel and his team have developed a unique assay that can detect BRCA mutations in about 80 percent of women tested so far. At the low cost of about $25 per case, it may provide a solution for Latin American women at high risk of breast cancer.

The BCRF grant is supporting Weitzel’s international project to test this assay among Latin American women. It also will help his team further their work to train clinicians in Peru, Colombia and Mexico and help establish an efficient system of genetic testing and counseling that can help women address their risk more effectively.

About the BCRF

BCRF is a nonprofit organization committed to prevention and a cure of breast cancer. Founded in 1993 by Evelyn H. Lauder, BCRF has invested more than half a billion dollars in research, supporting the brightest minds in science and medicine as they pursue their best ideas.

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Learn more about breast cancer treatment and research at City of Hope, including the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics.

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