Komen for the Cure

Komen grants $3 million to research at Duke, UNC

Posted September 22, 2015 11:07 a.m. EDT

— In its annual funding allotment Tuesday, Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research, announced new grants to 124 researchers in 25 states and 15 countries, including more than $3 million for work being done at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The 2015 grants will go mostly to early-career scientists, recent graduates and those trying to establish independent research careers.

Komen research grants are funded in part by a nationwide network of affiliates, including Komen NCTC (North Carolina Triangle to the Coast), which direct 25 percent of locally raised funds to national research. Affiliates use the remaining 75 percent of their funds for community outreach programs that serve local women and men facing breast cancer.

Komen has invested $889 million in breast cancer research since 1982, with $35,694,300 going to scientists in North Carolina.  

In the Triangle, the 2015 grants will fund the following:

At Duke University

Hongyu Tian, Ph.D., will receive $450,000 to investigate how the TGF- ß pathway is regulated during breast cancer progression, particularly by cells surrounding the tumor or its environment, which could potentially provide a new treatment target for metastatic breast cancer.

Komen Scholar Gerard Blobe, M.D., Ph.D., will receive $375,000 to continue investigating whether loss of the transforming growth factor-beta receptor, TβRIII, a protein on the cell surface whose normal function is to inhibit breast cancer formation, is responsible for a decrease in the stiffness of a cancer cell. Cancer cells that are less stiff and more pliable allow the breast cancer cells to become more mobile and invasive.

Komen Scholar Kimberly Blackwell, M.D., will receive $200,000 to study the amount of cholesterol and cholesterol byproducts in a breast cancer patient’s blood. This could potentially determine if patients with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer will respond better to standard anti-hormone treatment while on anti-cholesterol treatment.

Komen Scholar Neil Spector, M.D., will receive $400,000 to study the role of a variant form of HER2, referred to as p85HER2, in promoting resistance to HER2-targted therapies. Dr. Spector and team will also study the Hsp72 protein to determine if its inhibition can prevent or delay the formation of tumors.

Jian Chen, Ph.D., will receive $180,000 to identify how specific changes increase a breast cancer cell’s ability migrate and eventually metastasize to other organs. Dr. Chen will focus on studying why the loss of cell surface protein ALK4 results in increased breast cancer cell movement and invasion.

Funding at Duke University also includes $45,000 in support of the 2015 Accelerating Anticancer Agent Development and Validation Workshop. The workshop will educate investigators on new approaches to developing or enhancing agents, or combinations of agents for the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of cancer, and provide real-life examples of how high quality data enable effective interactions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

At the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill

The Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS) III, led by H. Shelton Earp, III, M.D., will receive nearly $875,000 to continue research into disparities in breast cancer outcomes. The CBCS study is on track to be the largest population-based studies of breast cancer in African-American and Caucasian women. CBCS III aims to obtain clinical treatment and outcomes data from patients across the state of North Carolina. The study would be the first to address how treatment decisions, access to care, and financial or geographic barriers impact breast cancer outcomes among African-American breast cancer patients in low-income and rural areas. Komen Scholars, Lisa Carey, M.D. and Komen Grantee Charles Perou, Ph.D. are also co-investigators in this study.

Katherine Reeder-Hayes, M.D., will receive $450,000 to analyze the data resources of the CBCS III to better understand how obesity, biological differences, and underuse of recommended endocrine therapy contribute to racial disparities in hormone-receptor positive breast cancer.

Qing Zhang, Ph.D., will receive $450,000 to investigate methods of inhibiting mitochondrial function within breast cancer cells, depriving the cells of the energy they need to grow. Dr. Zhang and team will specifically investigate the role of EgIN2 – a regulator of mitochondrial function.

Groesbeck Parham, M.D., will receive $215,000 to study factors that affect breast cancer outcomes for patients at a public hospital in Zambia. Dr. Parham will assess both immediate biological factors (prognostic factors, tumor biology, treatment received) and indirect factors that represent barriers in obtaining regular clinical breast exams, receiving an earlier diagnosis, and being given timely and appropriate treatment. The project is a collaboration between UNC and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Sara Hanna, Ph.D., will receive $180,000 to determine the biological differences between the Hippo pathway (a regulator of tissue growth) in chemo-sensitive and chemo-insensitive triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) tumors. The project aims to understand why some TNBC tumors respond to chemotherapy and others remain insensitive.