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Moffitt researcher awarded GE grant to develop tool to detect breast cancer metastasis genetic risks

M. Catherine Lee, M.D., breast cancer researcher and assistant member at Moffitt Cancer Center, has received a $100,000 grant from General Electric's $100 million healthymagination Challenge to develop genetic tools to investigate an individual's genetic makeup to determine if they are predisposed to develop or resist breast cancer metastasis.

GE's healthymagination grant awarding initiative focuses on "finding new ideas that accelerate innovation in early diagnosis, patient stratification, and the personalized treatment of breast cancer."

Lee's successful proposal, "Heritable Markers of Metastasis in Patients Diagnosed with Breast Cancer," was based on what Lee describes as "significant evidence for specific genetic variations associated with an increased risk of cancer metastasis."

According to Lee, the tumor in breast cancer is not the lethal element. Rather, it is the development and progression of breast cancer to other organs - called metastasis - that determines outcomes and survival. A number of genes and variations of those genes involved in the development of metastatic breast cancer have been identified.

Metastatic breast cancer is deadly. In 2011, an estimated 230,430 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer. Of them, approximately 40,000 will die from metastatic disease.

"We suspect that an individual's genetic makeup can predispose them to develop or resist breast cancer spread," Lee said. "Our approach will be to evaluate genetic variations known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, in patients being treated for breast cancer."

Moffitt collects and banks tissue samples from patients who volunteer to be part of the research. From those tissue banks, the researchers have already identified 150 women treated at Moffitt's Comprehensive Breast Program who developed metastatic disease within five years of follow-up. This group will be compared to a control group of women who did not develop metastatic disease after five years of follow-up.

The task for Moffitt researchers will be to evaluate inherited changes in DNA that are predictive for and identify inherited risk for developing or resisting breast cancer metastasis.

"We hope to identify biologic markers of metastasis to help classify those facing a higher metastasis risk," Lee said. "We also aim to improve therapeutic decision-making and ability to better predict outcomes after a breast cancer diagnosis."

The study falls under Moffitt's mission to offer personalized medicine to patients, a treatment plan by which an individual's disease is treated based on the patient's unique genetic makeup.

"Our ultimate goal is to develop a cheek swab test for patients diagnosed with breast cancer to be able to quickly guide treatment decisions based on their inherited predisposition to develop advanced disease," Lee said.

The Moffitt research team on the grant includes Johnathan Lancaster, M.D., Ph.D.; Ya-Yu Tsai, Ph.D.; and Thomas Sellers, Ph.D., M.P.H., Moffitt executive vice president and director of the Moffitt Research Institute. The research team is also collaborating with laboratories at the National Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C.


Contact: Patty Kim
H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute

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