Komen-Funded Research: Using the Tumor DNA Blueprint of Breast Cancer Patients as a Key to Personalized Medicine

While there is not yet “a cure” for breast cancer, Susan G. Komen®’s continuous support of breast cancer research has led to many breakthroughs, including that breast cancer is no longer considered to be one disease, but rather a family of diseases; and better patient care, with new approaches and therapies to treating all types of breast cancers.

Historically, the vast majority of breast cancers have been treated the same way, with a standard regimen built around surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Very inadequate, therapeutic approaches have now been better tuned to the different types of breast cancers. Yet, research shows that patients who have the same type of breast cancer could still present significant differences when their tumors are further analyzed at the molecular level. That reality is what gave rise to personalized medicine: an approach that allows patients to receive treatment plans specifically tailored to them, instead of having to undergo treatments that have not been optimized for their specific type of cancer. And why our continuous support of cancer genomics is critical.

This exciting area of research has already led to better tools to manage breast cancer in a number of ways. In addition to discovering the different biological subtypes of the disease, it has brought the design of new targeted treatments, such as trastuzumab. For many years, the drug was only used to treat metastatic breast cancer, but it is now be used to treat early-stage HER2-positive breast cancers.

However, there is still much to be learned from the vast amount of information recently generated on the genetic code of breast cancer. For example, Komen will fund a study led by Dr. Richard Myers at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology that will analyze DNA blueprints from individual patients’ tumors with the goal of providing patients with the best treatment options available, and personalized to their specific tumor.

In another Komen-funded study, Dr. Christina Curtis at the University of Southern California will investigate differences in the genetic material of HER2-positive tumors before and after treatment with trastuzumab to develop a tool that will predict treatment resistance in patients receiving that drug. Dr. Curtis will then use this knowledge to design new therapies that will overcome resistance to trastuzumab.

Komen also will continue to support Dr. Andrea Richardson at Harvard Medical School. She is investigating whether mutations beneficial to tumors could be linked to increased autophagy, literally “self-eating.” Autophagy is a nutrient recycling process that is co-opted by tumor cells to feed their voracious appetite for growth. Insights into autophagy in tumor cells could be translated into new treatments that will weaken the autophagy progress in breast cancers presenting with specific DNA abnormalities that create an abnormal reliance on this process.

Komen is also funding groundbreaking, genomics-related breast cancer research right here in St. Louis at Washington University.

At Susan G. Komen, we are relentless in our pursuit of ending breast cancer forever.  The path to finding the cures might be long, and it might be hard. But 30 years ago, we embarked in a race that we must finish. By significantly investing in cancer genomics research, we will bring new and improved personalized treatments to breast cancer patients around the world. And with each new breakthrough, we will get one step closer to fulfilling our promise.

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