Breast Cancer is a Global Problem.
BCRF's annual public symposium presents solutions.
This year's public symposium on October 28 at the Waldorf=Astoria demonstrated that BCRFs expanding scope of research on breast cancer around the world is not just a good idea for the women involved, but critical to finding a cure and preventing the disease for women in all countries. Moderated by Clifford Hudis, MD, Chairman of the BCRF Scientific Advisory Committee and Chief of Breast Cancer Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a panel of six BCRF experts gathered to discuss the kinds of research the organization is supporting and how international research is yielding knowledge that cannot be gained otherwise.
The presenters shared their perspectives on the importance of breast cancer research conducted throughout the world. These six notable experts were: Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS, of the Institute of Cancer Research, London; Jose Baselga, MD, of Vall dHebron University Hospital in Barcelona; Eduardo Cazap, MD, founder and president of the Latin American & Caribbean Society of Medical Oncology, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Ephrat Levy-Lahad, MD, of Hebrew University and Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; Larry Norton, MD, BCRFs Scientific Director and Deputy Physician-in-Chief and Director of Breast Cancer Programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and Martine Piccart-Gebhart, MD, PhD, Professor of Oncology, UniversitÃ© Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Director of the Medicine Department, Jules Bordet Institute, Brussels, Belgium.
All of the panelists gave examples of how the scientific knowledge gained in one country will expand or fine-tune the basis of treatments in all countries, while some such as Cazap and Levy-Lahad emphasized as well that standards of detection and care must be improved throughout the world if we are to truly conquer breast cancer. Dr. Piccart-Gebhart raised the significant point that, as case numbers of breast cancer shrink in developed countries, working collaboratively across national boundaries around the globe is emerging as the best way to conduct new clinical trials - trials that make optimal use of existing standards of care while expanding upon innovations that will reach hard-to-treat cancers.
Attendees at the symposium, which precedes the annual awards luncheon, expressed the need for earlier screening and better treatment in pre-menopausal women, and asked questions about the status of improved treatments for resistant, hormonally-sensitive breast cancer. They also asked questions about prevention following Ashworths and Baselgas statements that experimental new PARP inhibitors as well as existing treatments might be effective as breast cancer prevention. Evelyn Lauder raised the issue of how more and more people worldwide now remember their cultural history by learning about their genetics, and grantee Mary Claire-King, MD, cited the "Jewish alleles" found in populations of Spaniards who had immigrated to Mexico to escape political persecution as another example of the importance and power of genetic testing.
Drs. Norton and Hudis each reminded the audience that biology is a language that transcends nationhood or cultural identity, and that being strategic in funding international research will only speed cures and prevention.
The Awards Luncheon presented grants to 171 researchers from 12 countries totaling nearly $29 million, bringing the research funding given by BCRF over its sixteen years to more than $216 million. Leonard Lauder announced the Elizabeth Hurley Researcher Award when he presented Hurley with the 2009 BCRF Humanitarian Award for her tireless advocacy for breast cancer awareness around the globe. The new scientific award will be given annually to a researcher based in the United Kingdom beginning next October in Hurleys honor.
The 2009 Jill Rose Award went to Martine Piccart-Gephart, whose numerous international research honors and collaborations include founding the Breast International Group (BIG) in 1996. She spoke with deep emotion about her career shaping breast cancer medicine and research being like a "dream every morning that is realized by the evening." Piccart-Gephart created BIG to facilitate breast cancer clinical trials and to reduce unnecessary duplication of efforts. The organization currently coordinates 44 clinical research groups based in Europe, South America and Australasia.
The annual scientific retreat on October 27 followed a "think tank" format for the second year in a row. Researchers participated in one of six simultaneous sessions that were proposed and agreed upon prior to the meeting by consensus: Biomarkers; Cancer Stem Cells and Cancer/Stroma Interactions; Therapeutic Targets/Targeted Therapeutics; Cancer Susceptibility Genes; Molecular Classification, Prognostication and Prediction; and Prevention and Survivorship. Following the two-hour sessions in which participating scientists brainstormed the most important "next steps" in each of the retreat topics, the entire group met to summarize their discussions. Before promising to share the action list generated by the afternoons sessions with the entire group via BCRFs web portal, as he did last year, Dr. Norton reminded all the participants that despite news reports disputing the benefits of screening for breast cancer, the research advancements of the past 16 years have saved many lives, and will only save more in the future through research collaboration and innovation.