Breast Cancer is a Global Problem, BCRF is Part of the Solution
BCRF's public symposium focuses on solutions
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation announced its first international research grant in the fall of 2001. Today, researchers from five continents, whose reach extends to projects taking place in 28 countries, are part of that roster. This year's public symposium on October 28th at The Waldorf=Astoria revealed that BCRF's expanding scope of research on breast cancer around the world is not just a good idea for the women involved, but critical to the ongoing success of finding a cure and preventing the disease for women in all countries.
Moderated by Clifford Hudis, MD, Chairman of BCRF's Scientific Advisory Committee and Chief of Breast Cancer Medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, an international 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.
Presenters Alan Ashworth, BSc, PhD, FRS, of the Institute of Cancer Research, London; José Baselga, MD, of Vall d'Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona, Spain; 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, BCRF's Scientific Director and Deputy Physician-in-Chief, Director of Breast Cancer Programs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Martine Piccart-Gebhart, MD, PhD, Professor of Oncology, Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Director of the Medicine Department, TRANSBIG and Jules Bordet Institute, Brussels, Belgium, shared their perspectives on the importance of breast cancer research conducted throughout the world.
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, explained that standards of detection and care must be improved throughout the world if we are to truly conquer breast cancer. Piccart-Gebhart raised the significant point that, as case numbers of breast cancer shrink in developed countries, working collaboratively across 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.
In addition to the outstanding research presented by the Symposium panelists, BCRF funds projects on inflammatory breast cancer, new biomarkers and other methods for detection in Nigeria and Egypt, as well as multiple clinical trials in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Vietnam. In many instances, the establishment of clinical trials in Southeast Asian countries also brings modern medical treatments to women with breast cancer there for the first time. The knowledge gained from the studies will make a significant impact; Asian women represent two-thirds of the annual new cases of breast cancer worldwide.
Attendees at the Symposium, which preceded 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 Ashworth's and Baselga's explanation that experimental new PARP Inhibitors, as well as existing treatments, might be effective as breast cancer prevention. Mrs. Lauder raised the issue of how more and more people worldwide now remember their cultural history by learning about their genetics, and Mary Claire-King, MD, cited the "Jewish alleles" found in populations of Spaniards who had emigrated 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 day before the Symposium was the annual scientific retreat. The retreat followed a "think tank" format for the second year in a row. Researchers participated in one of six simultaneous sessions: 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" for each of the retreat topics, the entire group met to discuss their notes. Before promising to share the action list generated by the afternoon's sessions with the entire group via BCRF's researcher portal, Norton reminded all the participants that despite news reports disputing the benefits of screening for breast cancer, the research advances of the past sixteen years have saved many lives, and will only save more in the future through research collaboration and innovation.