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- Why Research
At BCRF, we believe in the power of proof. Just as science is built upon evidence, we expect our research to deliver results. We invest your donations in ideas that will turn into action. To us, progress means making discoveries in the lab that will have a meaningful impact on breast cancer patients today as well as tomorrow.
Since 1993—and because of your generosity—BCRF-supported investigators have been deeply involved in every major advance in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Your support has funded more than seven million hours of research, bringing us all closer to prevention and cure.
When BCRF was founded, the many complexities of breast cancer had yet to be revealed, much less understood. Because of our researchers, we now know much more about how cancer originates in the body. Research we supported led to the discovery of breast cancer stem cells, the very “roots” of the disease, which help us understand cancer’s fundamental properties. From this knowledge, our researchers can explore ways to target breast cancer stem cells to prevent breast cancer progression and metastasis.
It was BCRF researchers who found that breast cancer is, in fact, several diseases, each of which develops, progresses and responds to therapies differently. Our scientists are now learning that the major subtypes—Luminal A, Luminal B, HER2-positive and Triple Negative—can be further classified into sub-categories with distinct patterns of progression and response to therapies, opening the door to more individualized treatment plans.
BCRF has supported key players in advancing our understanding of the inheritable risk of breast cancer, from discoveries about BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations to the creation of the world’s most comprehensive database of breast cancer genes. This new wealth of knowledge allows scientists to identify other gene mutations that may influence a person’s risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Our researchers have also made critical headway in understanding ancestry’s relationship to breast cancer by determining certain populations who are at greater risk and discovering novel inherited causes.
Our researchers have demonstrated that certain lifestyle choices can influence incidence and recurrence. Thanks to their work, we have begun to understand how diet and exercise are linked to breast cancer risk and survival, how inflammation from obesity may trigger breast cancer development, and how a low-fat diet and weight loss can reduce the risk of recurrence. These important advances are helping people take command of their lives in ways that minimize their chances of getting not just breast cancer but other diseases as well.
Our scientists have contributed significantly to the development of precision medicine and individualized therapies, resulting in better, more effective treatments and fewer side effects. BCRF supported the early clinical trials that helped to accelerate the development of Herceptin (trastuzumab), a targeted therapy for HER2+ breast cancer proven to decrease the risk of recurrence by 50 percent. Herceptin, as well as newer targeted drugs, have dramatically changed the management of HER2+ breast cancer. Studies we support are also exploring ways to combine targeted therapies with existing chemotherapies to improve clinical outcomes in HER2+ as well as triple negative, ER+ and metastatic breast cancer.
Research we fund in the United States and Europe has contributed to the development of diagnostic tools that help doctors evaluate whether a woman with early stage estrogen receptor positive breast cancer can forego chemotherapy and receive the same benefit from less toxic hormonal therapies. Preventing overtreatment has allowed patients to avoid unnecessary side effects and improved quality of life for many women.
Our researchers were critical players in the breakthrough of biomarkers, unique molecular signals that can help predict how tumors will respond to certain treatments and the possibility of cancer returning. This discovery helps ensure patients not only receive the right drugs but also that preventive measures can be initiated early in patients with a high risk of recurrence or metastasis.
Through the work of our investigators, we are learning how to harness the immune system to better fight cancer. Our researchers have advanced our understanding of the tumor’s microenvironment and identified different classes of immune cells that either block tumor growth or promote it. Their studies have laid the groundwork for the discovery of immune biomarkers that can predict treatment response, targeted therapies to enhance immune response and the development of vaccines to use in combination with other therapies to improve treatment outcomes and prevent metastasis.
Because we know breast cancer is a life-changing experience, we have long supported research that will give patients a better quality of life during and after treatment. BCRF funds leaders in the field who are focused on survivorship and quality of life and conducting studies to improve cognitive impairment from chemotherapy and reduce cancer-associated stress and fatigue. We also fund research that has shown that a healthy lifestyle may reduce side effects from treatment and the risk of recurrence, and identified biomarkers that can indicate the presence of other health conditions resulting from chemotherapy, providing opportunities for early interventions.
Nothing is more important today in cancer medicine than understanding metastasis, or the spread of cancer. BCRF investigators are working diligently to uncover why certain breast cancer spread or recur. We support research that aims to identify markers in blood or DNA to improve our ability to measure the risk of metastasis and develop strategies to prevent it, and fund clinical trials that are testing promising new combination therapies for treatment of advanced breast cancer. To accelerate advances that will lead to better outcomes, we dedicated $27 million to launch the Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund, an international, multi-year collaboration focused on dissecting the molecular basis of metastasis.
BCRF will go anywhere in the world to support exceptional research that will bring us closer to a world free of cancer. Today, BCRF funds researchers across six continents, all working to dramatically improve diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of breast cancer for men and women everywhere.