“Faculty members who have good ideas or very large projects, which they need funds to complete, they write grants to a number of different organizations,” Shelton Earp, director of the center, said. “With respect to breast cancer, Komen has been a great partner.”
Of the $1.125 million, $400,000 was awarded to Lisa Carey, associate director of clinical sciences. Carey’s research focuses on treatment of a subset of breast cancer that is HER2-positive. HER2-positive tumors contain higher levels of the HER2 protein, which increases the growth of tumors.
“One in five breast cancers have too much HER2, and it makes them aggressive,” Carey said.
Drugs used to target HER2 have significantly improved patients' prognosis. Carey said current treatment includes chemotherapy and use of all five anti-HER2 drugs. Her research will focus on making treatment less harsh for patients when possible.
“It’s a year of treatment, and it’s aggressive,” Carey said. “It works, but we can probably be more rational about it. My hope is that we can, without losing effectiveness, identify a substantial proportion of patients in whom we can give much less chemotherapy and much less overall therapy and still achieve the same outcome.”
The Susan G. Komen foundation also awarded $725,000 to support the Carolina Breast Cancer Study.
“The Carolina Breast Cancer Study is a large, prospective cohort study that consists of three phases," said Stephanie Wheeler, associate member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Program. "We’re currently in phase three, which has been focused on trying to understand the biological and the epidemiologic and the health services experiences around women with breast cancer."
The study began recruitment in 2008 and finished recruitment in 2013. Presently, 3,000 women of varying age and race participate. The data collected in the current phase will be used to examine experiences post-breast cancer.
“I think that the study is going to provide physicians and public health practitioners like myself with a lot more information than we’ve previously had about the potentially differential experience of black women with breast cancer versus white women, as well as younger versus older women, and how that experience changes over time,” said Wheeler. “It’ll give us an opportunity also to look for places for intervention.”
The rest of the award money will be used for research projects with other focuses, such as triple negative breast cancer, which Valletta was treated for.
“I’m very thankful to live close by to such a wonderful hospital and to have these therapies available to me because I have three kids that are going to need me,” Valletta said.
The Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center hopes to use the award from Komen to continue helping breast cancer patients through research and new treatment options.
“In this kind of research support, Komen’s money comes from philanthropy,” Carey said. “This is philanthropy at work. This is what they use that money for.”