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New pathways to breast cancer prevention: A grantee spotlight

February 21, 2019

The Prevent Cancer Foundation® is proud to provide grant support to researchers working to expand what is known about cancer prevention and early detection. To kick off Cancer Prevention Month, we highlight a recent project that provides new hope and insight for early detection of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a highly aggressive form of breast cancer.

Victoria Seewaldt, M.D.Victoria Seewaldt, M.D., the Ruth Ziegler Professor and Chair, Department of Population Sciences at City of Hope, was frustrated seeing patients who had a “normal” mammogram or biopsy go on to develop TNBC.

“When this happens in my clinic, I feel that I have betrayed my patient,” Dr. Seewaldt said. “Prevention can’t be one-size-fits-all because breast cancers are as different as the women who get them. To know how to prevent breast cancer, we need to figure out what is going wrong at the beginning.”

Since so little is known about effective early detection and prevention strategies for TNBC, Dr. Seewaldt decided to dig in deeper to learn more about how these aggressive cancers start. “While appearance [of breast biopsies] is important, biology can sometimes be even more important,” she said.  In her previous work, Seewaldt and her team identified a signaling pathway in the body that blocks BRCA1 protein from entering the nucleus of the cell, where it is needed. When this happens, the BRCA1 genes lose their ability to function properly, and the risk of developing TNBC is increased.

With grant money provided by the Prevent Cancer Foundation®, Dr. Seewaldt and her team were able to examine whether this pathway could help identify women who may develop TNBC despite having a normal biopsy. They hypothesized that suppressing signals from this pathway could keep BRCA1 genes functioning–and thus reduce a woman’s risk of developing TNBC.

Dr. Seewaldt’s team developed a rapid test to see if repurposed drugs or natural products could increase BRCA1 function and prevent TNBC.  Dr. Seewaldt’s team used this to study whether the use of metformin, a drug commonly used to treat type-2 diabetes patients, could prevent TNBC in mice. Their results showed that a 1120mg daily dose of metformin could suppress tumors and increase BRCA1 function, which is promising for TNBC prevention and treatment. In the future, they will test the ability of other repurposed drugs and natural products to target BRCA1 and prevent TNBC.

Dr. Seewaldt hopes her work can save lives and prevent aggressive breast cancers like TBNC. “As a physician I have seen too many women die of aggressive breast cancers. Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation has helped me take a new direction in prevention and early detection.”

From this research, Dr. Seewaldt has published six articles in peer-reviewed journals and created a foundation for future studies to continue this important work.  We’re proud of what Dr. Seewaldt and her team have accomplished so far and look forward to seeing what they do next!

If you’re an early-career cancer prevention or early detection researcher in need of funding, reach out to Ximena Marquez at Ximena.Marquez@preventcancer.org to learn more about our grant opportunities. If not, you’ll still be interested to learn more about what our researchers are up to.

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