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2012/2013 Annual Breast Cancer Research Grant Recipients

Dr. Timothy Beischlag, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

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The role of retinoblastoma protein in HIF1-mediated breast cancer progression.

Project Overview

I received my Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1996. I continued my trainin​g at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California-Los Angeles and the Centre for Molecular Medicine at the University of California-San Diego.  

I am interested in how low oxygen or hypoxia promotes the progression of benign breast tumours to metastatic and lethal phenotypes. We have identified an unrecognized mode of regulation of hypoxia-controlled gene expression and we intend to exploit this to develop better therapeutic anti-cancer agents. Attempting to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying tumour cell transformation has been the main focus of my research and motivation for many years now. 

It is our hope that this research will lead to the development of novel anti-cancer therapeutics and thus, improve the lives of Canadians suffering from breast cancer with the ultimate hope that we will realize a future without this disease. We have discovered a novel regulatory mechanism of tumour suppression that breaks down in many tumour types. We hope to exploit this information to block breast cancers from becoming metastatic. 

It is only because of the generosity of CBCF donors and the grant support provided by these donations that this exciting work can go forward. I, and my laboratory remain committed to the pursuit of a better future for Canadians suffering from breast cancer. We are extremely grateful for the continued support provided by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Dr. Christoper Maxwell, University of British Columbia, Vancouver

maxwell.jpgProject Title

Molecular targeting of BRCA1- mediated aberrant human mammary cell differentiation as a new therapeutic strategy in basal breast cancers.

Project Overview

Our goal is to develop safer, more effective therapies for cancers that develop in children and young adults. The path we are taking towards our goal is to study basic processes of a cell, for example division, differentiation, and migration, to identify differences between normal cells and cancer cells. Once we identify these differences, we are targeting key molecules that cancer cells may depend upon with small-molecule drugs to create more specific anti-cancer treatments. 

We are working towards a better understanding of the development of an aggressive and difficult-to-treat breast cancer that affects young women. As there are currently no targeted therapies for these cancers, the young patients with these breast cancers are treated with high dose therapies that are prone to cause negative side effects. We would like to identify a more specific therapy to treat these women and to achieve better responses with fewer side effects.

By funding research into the causes and new treatments for breast cancer, CBCF, and the donors that support the Foundation, are helping to turn new ideas into better treatments, and to create a future without breast cancer.

Dr. Brad Nelson, BC Cancer Agency, Victoria

brad.jpgProject Title

Targeting the breast cancer genome with personalized therapeutic vaccines.

Project Overview

I became involved in cancer research 20 years ago after seeing my mother-in-law struggle with ovarian cancer. I’ve always felt that any cure for cancer has to involve the patient’s own natural defenses, in particular the immune system. Most breast cancer patients instinctively feel this way too and do their best to enhance their immune system through diet and exercise. This is very worthwhile, but is it possible to “super charge” the immune response to cancer to curative levels? Yes, absolutely – this is the goal of our project.

Our team is developing 'personalized vaccines' that will trigger a potent immune response against the mutations found in a patient’s tumor. Because each patient’s tumor and immune system are unique, we will design customized vaccines for each patient. Although this may sound unrealistic at first glance, recent advances in genomics make this idea scientifically, clinically and economically feasible. We envision that patients will be given these vaccines at the completion of standard treatment to ensure the immune system is primed to recognize and eliminate any residual tumor cells that may have evaded treatment. 

To learn how best to design and deliver these vaccines, we are going to first try to treat pet dogs that have been diagnosed with mammary cancer (a disease that is very similar to human breast cancer). Working with veterinarians in Victoria, we will connect with dog owners who are interested in enrolling their pets in this exciting research project. We will subject the dogs’ tumors to advanced DNA sequencing methods to find all the mutations in their tumors. We will then assess which mutations are most easily recognized by the immune system, such that they would be effective components of a vaccine. This will pave the way for a future clinical trial in which dogs will be given personalized vaccines designed to prevent tumor recurrence after surgery.

Thanks to the many donors to CBCF, we’re able to pilot an entirely new form of breast cancer treatment that harnesses the natural power of the immune system to eradicate cancer. Once we have some experience helping pet dogs, we will expand our efforts to human clinical trials in 3-5 years. With your support, we hope to help breast cancer patients (both canine and human!) develop potent, curative immune responses against their cancer. On behalf of my entire research team, I thank CBCF and its many supporters for this exciting opportunity.

Dr. Paulos Teckle, BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver

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Long-term income and employment among breast cancer survivors in British Columbia.

Project Overview

There are almost 40,000 women living in BC with a previous diagnosis of breast cancer (the largest group (22%) of cancer survivors in the province), and almost 90% survive at least five years. However, it has become apparent that this disease, and its associated treatments, could affect survivors’ current and future ability to participate in the labor force. The economic impact of breast cancer can be devastating for survivors and their families. However, previous studies have provided only incomplete or unreliable information because of study limitations, including small study groups, non-responders, self-reported experience, lack of information on factors affecting future employment, and relatively short follow-up.

The objectives of this study are to use linked population-based registries, clinical datasets, and administrative tax data to measure and describe the effect of breast cancer on women’s future income and employment, and to determine what patient, tumour and treatment characteristics predict variations in income and employment for these women. I will also evaluate differences in income and employment, such as proportion employed and average income, between survivors and the general population.

In this study I will evaluate changes in patterns of income and employment over time. This project uses a unique population-based research resource to provide comprehensive information on long term employability and income issues for breast survivors, that will inform care providers, employers, employment services and policymakers of the long-term economic impacts of the cancer and its treatment, so as to affect change to minimize the overall financial burden and challenges of re-entry to the labour force, as recommended by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network. Evidence generated from our proposed project will also help oncologists to better understand the wider impacts associated with the late effects of breast cancer therapies that will guide clinical trials of new treatments. 

CBCF donor support allows for quality research from BC researchers that addresses all aspects of the breast cancer experience

Dr. Sally Smith, BC Cancer Agency, Victoria

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Prospective evaluation of BCS without adjuvant RT in Luminal A breast cancer: a personalized approach to defining low-risk patient subsets

Project Overview

I completed my medical degree at the University of British Columbia. After completing my residency in Radiation Oncology at the University of Calgary, I returned to Victoria where I did fellowship research on issues affecting survivors of breast cancer, and preferences for survivorship care. I remain on staff at the Vancouver Island Cancer Centre (VICC) where I continue to care for patients with breast cancer. 

Breast cancer affects the lives of thousands throughout British Columbia every year. Clinicians and researchers recognize that each case is unique. Knowledge that allows individualization of care is imperative so patients can receive optimal treatment for their personal situation. My research aims to identify women with very low risk of local recurrence after breast conserving surgery who could safely avoid breast radiotherapy. If such a group is identified, it would provide a more personalized approach to the local management for women with breast cancer.

Great advances have been made in breast cancer in the last several decades. An ongoing commitment to research to continue to improve the care we provide for patients with breast cancer is essential. 

As a clinician researcher, I am grateful to CBCF and its donors for their ongoing commitment to funding research, which is, in actuality, a commitment to families affected by this disease.

Dr. Neil Eves, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Kelowna

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Vascular-Ventricular Coupling following Anthracycline-Containing Chemotherapy in Operable Breast Cancer

Project Overview

The goal of our research is to better understand the development of cardiovascular disease after chemotherapy treatment, and determine if we can identify early signs of dysfunction. 

Our study examines how chemotherapy containing anthracycline may detrimentally effect how the heart and blood vessels work together in breast cancer survivors. This chemotherapy significantly improves breast cancer survival rates, however, anthracycline-containing chemotherapy also places women at a higher risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease compared to women who have not gone through treatment.

As breast cancer treatments get better and survival rates increase, the population of survivors will continue to grow. It is our hope that earlier detection of the adverse cardiovascular effects of breast cancer treatment will lead to improved awareness and treatment options that could greatly enhance the long-term health of survivors once therapy is complete.

We are incredibly thankful to CBCF and especially to those who donate money to breast cancer research. Without these opportunities to obtain funding, less trainees would be performing oncology research and a lot of important breakthroughs in all aspects of breast cancer detection and care would not be achieved.​