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Duke Breast Cancer Program Awarded $9.8 Million National Cancer Institute Grant

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- The Breast Cancer Research Program of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center has been awarded a SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The Duke program is one of only 10 in the country to receive a breast SPORE grant, which will provide $9.8 million in funding during the next five years. The grant recognizes Duke researchers for their commitment to finding innovative ways to treat and prevent breast cancer.

The NCI established the highly competitive SPORE program in 1992 to foster innovative research and bring new findings from the laboratory to the clinic. The grant directly supports research and is awarded in order "to bring to clinical care settings novel ideas that have the potential to reduce cancer incidence and mortality, improve survival, and improve the quality of life," according to the NCI.

Currently, only 49 SPORE grants are distributed among 27 institutions. SPORES are organized at cancer centers around a specific type of cancer. Each project must involve both basic and clinical scientists, must include a population-based research component and must focus on translational research. In 2002, NCI funded SPOREs on breast, prostate, lung, gastrointestinal, ovarian, genitourinary, brain, skin and head and neck cancers and lymphoma. The NCI plans to increase the use of the SPORE mechanism to include funding for other major cancers, such as gynecologic and pancreatic cancers in addition to leukemia and myeloma.

"The SPORE serves a vital role in Duke's Breast Cancer Research Program," said H. Kim Lyerly, M.D., director of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and SPORE director. "This grant demonstrates the NCI's confidence in the work being done in breast cancer research at Duke and also provides the Duke program with critical resources necessary to continue important research in breast cancer prevention, detection, and treatment."

The SPORE grant will fund four research projects and an ongoing developmental research project within the Duke Breast Cancer Research Program.

Project titles and lead investigators include:

Consequences of hypoxia in breast cancer. Co-leaders are Mark Dewhirst, Ph.D., Lawrence Marks, M.D., and David Brizel, M.D.. The long-term objectives of this work are to determine whether tumor hypoxia (inadequacy of oxygen) plays a role in resistance to chemotherapy and whether improved oxygenation can lead to better outcome in the adjuvant and metastatic setting.

T helper responses to HER2/neu in Breast Cancer Patients. Co-leaders are Lyerly, Michael Morse, M.D., and Timothy Clay, Ph.D. The long-term objective of this project is to generate a response to antigen-specific T cells and to demonstrate the clinical benefits of these findings in patients with cancer.

Hormonal Modifiers of Penetrance of Breast Cancer among BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutation Carriers. Co-leaders are Joellen Schildkraut, Ph.D., and Edwin Iversen, Ph.D. The focus of the study is to examine whether genetic factors involved in DNA damage and repair act as modifiers of BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Application of Pharmacogenomics to Treatment of Breast Cancer. Co-leaders are Michael Colvin, M.D., Jeffrey Marks, Ph.D., and William Petros. The goal of this project is to identify pharmacogenomic determinants of drug exposure and utilize the knowledge of these determinants to improve the effectiveness and tolerance of breast cancer therapy.

Development Research Project: Genetic Markers of Hormonal Therapy Resistance. Co-leaders are Marks and Joseph Nevins, Ph.D.

The grant also will fund a research development program to support pilot projects that take maximum advantage of new research opportunities. The program plans to award grants of up to $50,000 per year to support innovative translational breast cancer research. Additionally, the grant will subsidize a career development program to support and mentor promising young investigators so that they can develop independent research programs, collaborate with senior investigators and develop into future leaders of the Duke Breast Cancer Research Program.

The Duke Breast Cancer Research Program is a component of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and represents a multi-disciplinary team of investigators with expertise in oncology, molecular biology, pathology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, pharmacology, immunology, epidemiology and receptor biology. The Duke Breast Cancer Research Program has been instrumental in increasing the understanding of breast cancer biology and developing new investigational therapies that have been clinically tested. Duke scientists were members of the team that discovered the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which cause inherited breast and ovarian cancers.

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