The grant will be used to better identify which women with estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) breast cancer, the most common form of the disease, are at highest risk for recurrence and to determine more effective treatments for those individuals.
“There are so many new drugs out there for breast cancer patients that we need a way to establish which ones are most likely to be the home run,” says Matthew Ellis, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and chief of the breast oncology section at Washington University School of Medicine. “Our goal is to screen drugs to find the one that will produce the best outcome for the patient with the least toxicity.”
Ellis, who treats patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, is a co-recipient of the grant along with Elaine Mardis, PhD, co-director of The Genome Institute at the School of Medicine, and Pascal Meier, PhD, of The Institute of Cancer Research in London. Using DNA sequencing to compare a patient’s normal and cancerous cells, the researchers are learning why traditional anti-hormone drugs often are only partially effective in reducing tumor growth. The study involves developing a test to predict which patients are most likely to experience recurrence after five years and determining which combination of drugs now in development will kill all ER-positive cancer cells and prevent recurrence.
Because the test also aims to determine which patients are not likely to experience recurrence, the other goal is to protect women from unnecessary treatments and follow-up visits to the clinic.
Timothy Eberlein, MD, Siteman director and a breast cancer surgeon and researcher, says the study would be difficult to conduct without the grant, which in turn relies on fundraisers such as the annual Susan G. Komen St. Louis Race for the Cure.
“We’re very fortunate in St. Louis to have both a world-class cancer research center at Siteman and a community willing to put, literally, its blood, sweat and tears into raising money to fight this terrible disease,” Eberlein says. “We are extremely grateful for the generosity of Komen and our local race participants.”