Palm Beach Symposium, February 8, 2010
BCRF panelists describe How Science is Revolutionizing Our Approach to Breast Cancer.
The Foundation held its seventh annual Hot Pink Luncheon in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 8, 2010, raising more than $340,000 for breast cancer research. Over lunch at The Breakers, BCRF Scientific Director Larry Norton, MD
, introduced a panel discussion with distinguished clinical and laboratory investigators supported by BCRF. The program highlighted the ways in which the efforts of these researchers are connected, even though they use very different tools to study breast cancer. These interconnections are exemplified both on the scientific level, in terms of the cellular functions studied, and on an interpersonal level, in the ways that seemingly separate research efforts tie together. A thread through all the discussions was the role genes play in cancer development and growth and the impact of environmental factors on those genes.
Dr. Norton began by noting the current national debate on the need for health care reform, and told the luncheon guests that BCRF is very much a part of the discussion since "the best way to keep people healthy is to advance medical research."
Arnold Levine, PhD of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the Institute for Advanced Study, reported that his laboratory's search for tumor suppressor genes and genetic mutations that increase breast cancer risk has led them to posit that genetic predisposition may sometimes lie in an individual and not run throughout her family. They have found that some individuals may be much more likely than others to pass on genetic mutations; these studies are continuing to chip away at the complicated question of breast cancer susceptibility.
Clifford Hudis, MD of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who is also the Chairman of BCRF's Scientific Advisory Committee, described his studies (with Dr. Andrew Dannenberg) of the inflammatory pathway, which also lend support to the existing evidence that obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer. They have shown that excessive calorie intake is linked to chronic inflammation, which in turn affects the function of the BRCA1 gene, possibly influencing cancer risk
Joyce Slingerland, MD, PhD, FRCP(C) and Marc Lippman, MD are both based at the University of Miami. Dr. Slingerland praised BCRF for giving her and others the flexibility to pursue exploratory ideas that may lead to new prevention and treatment strategies. Questions that her laboratory is currently pursuing include: What component of fat cells may cause breast epithelial cells to proliferate, and why does breast cancer tend to metastasize to the bone? Dr. Lippman reported that his group has identified at least five new tumor suppressor genes.
Joan Brugge, PhD described her studies at Harvard. As a laboratory scientist, she studies cancer cells rather than patients but the questions her group focuses on are aimed at improving treatment. For example, in looking for the genes that give cells the ability to survive outside their home environment, she and her team work closely with clinicians to develop new drugs which will inhibit the cellsí ability to survive.
Dr. Norton reported on his breast cancer research, which is rooted in mathematics and the study of how and at what rate living things grow. He describes his collaboration with Dr Joan Massague, whose laboratory proved that cancer cells tend to come back to "re-seed" at the original tumor, making it grow faster. If this theory can be shown to work in humans, it will open up new avenues for treatment and the search for drugs that stop the seeding process.
The panelists ended by responding to audience questions, including one about the revived debate about the benefits of breast cancer screening methods and recommended frequency. Dr. Hudis said that the benefits of screening are significant and that the broad use of mammography in developed countries became one of the largest, most successful public health experiments in history, leading not only to reduced mortality but also to fewer mastectomies.
Together, these investigators provided an opportunity to see how scientists and clinicians are working in tandem to gain a deeper understanding of how cancers behave and the impact of the environment on their behavior.