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UPCI Researcher Receives Grant to Study Breast Cancer Biomarkers


PITTSBURGH — Susan G. Komen for the Cure has awarded Jean Johanna Latimer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), a grant to develop biomarkers that will help identify which forms of a common, noninvasive cancer―ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)―will metastasize. The research, focusing in part on DCIS in African-American women, may eventually spare patients from unnecessary treatments.

DCIS represents over 50,000, or 20 percent, of new breast cancer cases each year. While DCIS is considered a stage zero form of cancer because it doesn’t spread beyond the milk ducts, it can be a precursor to other invasive breast cancers.

“Because of the progress made with mammography, we are picking up breast cancers earlier than ever before. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing in which patients DCIS will progress to a more invasive form, so we treat the majority of patients aggressively,” said Dr. Latimer. “The treatment options, including mastectomy and radiation, often cause a lot of disruption and suffering.”

Komen’s two-year, $300,000 grant will help to fund research to develop biomarkers to determine what types of DCIS will progress, eventually relieving many patients of both the financial and emotional burden of rigorous treatment.

Dr. Latimer’s laboratory is the only research group in the country with access to DCIS cell lines. Through culturing these cell lines and identifying the different proteins present, her group will begin to recognize what strands of the disease are likely to progress, and also identify the biologic differences between Caucasian and African-American women with the disease.

“People get cancer for different reasons, and we believe there are biologic differences between these two patient groups. In the past, we assumed African-American communities had a higher rate of morbidity because of racial disparity issues, such as access to health care, but even with those factors considered, they are more likely to develop aggressive, metastatic breast cancers. If we expand our DCIS cell line database and begin identifying biomarkers for this disease, we will take another step toward an era of personalized medicine, where it is recognized that breast cancers differ greatly from one person to another, and treatment options can be designed around that understanding,” said Dr. Latimer.

Founded in 1984, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute became a National Cancer Institute (NCI) -designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1990. UPCI, the only cancer center in western Pennsylvania with this elite designation, serves the region’s population of more than 6 million. Presently, UPCI receives a total of $154 million in research grants and is ranked 10th in funding from NCI.


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