March 2017 — Breast Cancer Patient-Led Advocate Group Awards UPCI Researcher with Leadership Grant
The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network is a volunteer, patient-led advocacy organization that seeks to address the unique needs and concerns of women and men who are living with metastatic or stage IV breast cancer. One of the ways in which the MBCN makes an impact in this area is by supporting metastatic breast cancer research through contributions made in memory of patients whose lives were cut short by the disease.
Steffi Oesterreich, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology & Chemical Biology, was selected as a 2017 recipient of a $100,000 Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Leadership Award from the MBCN for her important work towards understanding the molecular mechanisms of invasive lobular breast cancer (ILC). This subset accounts for 10 to 15% of all breast cancers, and was recently shown to have unique genomic alterations as well as etiological, biological, and clinical differences from the more common breast cancer subtype, invasive ductal carcinoma. With funds from the award, Dr. Oesterreich plans to examine metastatic ILC tissues to identify unique driver mutations that might be targeted by novel therapies.
A hub for ILC research, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute held the first International Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer Symposium in September 2016, bringing together researchers, patients, and advocates from all over the world for discourse on ILC research and challenges.
Watch Dr. Oesterreich discuss ILC research and advocacy at UPCI in the video below, and learn more here.
February 2017 — UPCI First to Explore Genetic Cancer Test to Offer Safe Thyroid-Preserving Surgery
Pittsburgh scientists and doctors are embarking on the first-ever clinical trial to determine if a genetic test they pioneered could successfully spare patients with nonaggressive thyroid cancer from complete removal of their thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that is important to hormone regulation and development. Such thyroid-preserving surgery minimizes surgical complications, and many patients also may avoid taking medication every day to keep thyroid hormone levels in check.
The two-year trial, which is entirely philanthropically funded by individual donors affected by thyroid cancer, will investigate whether the locally-developed molecular genetic test ThyroSeq can correctly differentiate between thyroid cancers most likely to spread and need complete removal of the thyroid gland, and those likely to be far less invasive, warranting a thyroid-preserving surgical approach.
January 2017 — Preventive Cancer Vaccines Harness the Immune System to Defend Against Cancer Development
While it is commonly known that vaccines can be used to prevent infectious diseases, researchers have also been exploring the use of vaccines for cancer prevention. Olivera Finn, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Immunology and Surgery, has dedicated her career to the study of the human immune system and how it can be harnessed to combat cancer.
While some cancer vaccines focus on attacking cancer cells that have already formed, preventive cancer vaccines aim to destroy pre-malignant cells before they turn into cancer. Dr. Finn and colleagues completed the first ever clinical trial testing a vaccine based on a human tumor antigen, MUC1, in people at high risk for developing colon cancer. The positive results of that study led to a second, larger trial that is currently ongoing.
This past year, Dr. Finn was the recipient of an Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Cancer Institute, providing $6.2 million over seven years to support her research in the immunoprevention and immunosurveillance of human non-viral cancers. She also recently received the American Association of Immunologists Lifetime Achievement Award.
Watch Dr. Finn discuss preventive cancer vaccines in the video below.