BCRF sat down with Dr. Hyman B. Muss to discuss his current work and interest in breast cancer research. Read on to learn more.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in breast cancer research.
A: Several of my family have and have had breast cancer and the spectrum of illness and treatments always seemed a great challenge to me. From a research vantage there are opportunities to work in basic biology, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and supportive care. It is a worldwide problem and what we learn from our research is often applicable to other cancers. Best, I love the patients-all types, all backgrounds-breast cancer is colorblind and has no respect for socioeconomic status-so it affects us all.
Q: Briefly describe your research project.
A: We have been fortunate to have several funded projects. Initially we explored new tumor markers that could tell us which patients might most benefit from tamoxifen treatment. More recently we looked at the interaction of the "normal" appearing stromal tissue (the normal looking cells that are interspersed with the cancer cells) and the breast cancer cells. We found that these normal appearing cells had different gene patterns than other normal appearing cells in the breast that were not near the cancer. We are following up on this to look for targeted agents that might interfere with this stroma-cancer cell "crosstalk" that would provide novel ways to treat patients.
Right now our major project is related to angiogenesis-the development of blood vessels in the cancer that support its growth. In normal people as well as women with cancer a large percentage of the proteins that stimulate new blood vessel formation (vascular endothelial growth factors or ï¿½VEGFï¿½) are in the blood platelets-small cells in the blood that are essential for blood clotting. We have found that tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors interact with platelets and affect the release of VEGF. We are currently planning to see if an anti-platelet agent can augment this VEGF release in a clinical trial in patients with early breast cancer. If this is the case then a larger trial will be planned to see if this improves outcome for women receiving hormonal therapy.
Q: What are your primary goals for this research?
A: To look for new targets for better treatment.
Q: Who do you think will benefit from your research?
A: Patients with early breast cancer for the most part but if we can find agents affecting the stromal-breast cancer cell interaction we would plan trials in patients with metastatic disease.
Q: How has your research focus changed since your first BCRF grant, and how would you say that our grants have had an impact on your work and the field?
A: The BCRF funds have allowed us to do studies in new and exciting areas. We have a superb cancer-coagulation group at the Vermont Cancer Center and are excited about the leads we have for the role of platelets, VEGF, and hormonal; therapy interactions in women with early breast cancer.
Q: How close do you think we are to preventing or finding a cure for breast cancer?
A: We have learned that breast cancer is not a single disease-just as cancer is not a singular disease-we need to think about curing "cancers" and not cancer. We have decreased breast cancer mortality rates since the early 1990's by about 30%. This improvement is the result of better screening and newer adjuvant therapies. We have learned that it is unlikely that there will be a single "magic bullet" that will cure breast cancers and that success will be related to small but important incremental increases in treatment benefits. I would say we are getting close to finding cures (a plural) for some breast cancers but have a way to go with others. We are though making slow but sure progress on all fronts and I believe curing most patients is an attainable research goal in the next decade.
Read more about Dr. Muss' current research project funded by BCRF.