Siteman Cancer Center is fighting breast cancer on multiple fronts, thanks in part to the $20 million in grants Susan G. Komen® has awarded to Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital researchers and clinicians since 2008.
This funding is aiding the search for improved drug therapies, increasing access to breast screenings and educating women in the St. Louis area about breast health.
The impact can’t be underestimated, said Cynthia Ma, MD, PhD. Last year, Komen awarded her a four-year, $1 million grant aimed at improving drug therapies for breast cancer patients by fine-tuning how investigational drugs are tested.
“With Komen’s help, we intend to learn how to better select patients for clinical trials, based on their tumor types, so we can determine which drugs work best for each person,” said Ma, an associate professor of medicine and a Siteman research member.
The grant also is funding a more personalized approach to treating women with triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of the disease.
Ma shares the grant with Shunqiang Li, PhD, a Washington University research instructor and Siteman research associate member. Matthew Ellis, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and leader of Siteman’s Breast Cancer Research Program, is a collaborator. Their project builds on past Komen-funded research at Washington University School of Medicine.
Anyone can contribute to the 16th Annual Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure, to be held June 14. Since 1999, local Race participants have raised tens of millions of dollars to fight breast cancer. What they might not know is how much their contributions have assisted screening, research and other efforts in St. Louis.
Of the net proceeds raised from the local Race, 75 percent stays in St. Louis to help organizations such as Siteman provide breast cancer screening, education and other breast health services. For example, with Komen funds, Siteman has provided free mammograms to more than 3,200 underserved, low-income women per year.
“Komen’s help is essential in Siteman’s outreach efforts, and without them we simply would not be able to provide screening to the underserved at the levels we do,” said Susan Kraenzle, RN, manager of the Joanne Knight Breast Health Center at Washington University Medical Center.
Research grants are another way Race for the Cure registration fees and donations are put to work. Money raised at the Komen St. Louis Race and at Komen Race events nationwide has sent millions of dollars in Komen grants to Washington University scientists at Siteman.
Other such Komen-funded recipients aim to:
- Develop a personalized breast cancer vaccine aimed at preventing recurrence of the disease. The project involves decoding the DNA of patients and identifying the differences between normal cells and cancer cells, then designing a vaccine for each patient using her own immune system to destroy the cancer cells. For the project, William Gillanders, MD, professor of surgery, received a $6.5 million Komen grant and is working with Elaine Mardis, PhD, co-director of The Genome Institute and the Robert E. and Louise F. Dunn Distinguished Professor of Medicine at the School of Medicine, and Ted Hansen, PhD, professor of pathology and immunology and of genetics.
- Better identify which women with estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancer, the most common form of the disease, are at the highest risk of recurrence and to find more effective treatments for those individuals. Komen contributed a $4 million grant to the study by Ellis and co-recipients Mardis and Pascal Meier, PhD, of The Institute of Cancer Research in London.
- Increase the number of area women who have been screened, and reduce the number who receive late-stage diagnoses. Services offered through the Breast Health Care for At-Risk Communities project include: education, outreach, diagnosis and referral to Siteman’s medical oncology navigator for support during treatment.
Race for the Cure participants in St. Louis and beyond make the grants possible.
“It moves me to see how our city turns out the way it does,” Kraenzle said. “I lost a sister to breast cancer, and I wish she were here to see this and know people are fighting for her and her kids.”