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Duke, UNC researchers recognized by Komen foundation

Posted October 26

The Susan G. Komen foundation’s 10-year goal is to cut breast cancer deaths in half. An important part of that strategy involves funding local research to learn more about the disease.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Dr. Lisa Carey and Duke University’s Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, two prominent cancer researchers in the Triangle, have been recognized as Komen’s ‘More Than Pink Heroes.’

Both physicians have been dedicated to helping more women survive breast cancer for two decades.

“I started 20 years ago, we had seven treatments for breast cancer. We now have over 21 treatments for breast cancer,” Blackwell said.

Many of those newer treatments provide an option for women with hormone sensitive breast cancer, meaning they have HER2 positive tumors.

“But for this one third of all breast cancers known as triple negative, we have limited treatment options,” she said.

Blackwell said African American women are affected differently by this invasive form of breast cancer. Komen is funding her efforts to discover why these tumors tend to elude standard therapies.

Part of the answer may also come from Dr. Lisa Carey's Komen supported research, which depends on patients who know they will die from their disease.

“After they die, they donate their bodies and samples of their cancer to scientists so that scientists can explore why one cancer went into the lung when another one might not,” Carey said.

She said it may help answer questions about how tumors evolve and how they develop resistance to drugs.

“The promise of personalized medicine is that you really understand the tumor that the patient has at that time, not the one they had 5 years earlier,” Carey said.

Both doctors said they are inspired by those who donate to the cause as well as the fighting spirit of their patients.

“This is one of the reasons I went into breast cancer, is because of the patients you interact with.” Carey said.

They both said it is an honor to be recognized by such a prominent organization dedicated to breast cancer research.

“To be part of Susan G. Komen's efforts to say that we're going to reduce the death rate of breast cancer in half is not only an honor, but it gets me out of bed every morning,” Blackwell said. “To try and work as hard as I can.”

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