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Komen Initiative Awards DCI & UNC Lineberger Teams $1.5M for MBC Research

The grants, made possible by the Susan G. Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Initiative, have been awarded to teams comprised of patient advocates and DCI and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center investigators


Sarah Avery
Sarah Avery
919-724-5343 Email

National breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen announced, on Sept. 13, the awarding of $1.5 million total for three new metastatic breast cancer research projects — each co-led by a Duke Cancer Institute investigator and a UNC Linberger Comprehensive Cancer Center investigator.

These particular grant awards — $500,000 each over three years for each project — will boost evidence-based research into the biological and societal drivers of breast cancer metastasis and mortality and will catalyze the development of potential new treatments.

Katrina Cooke, Pam Kohl and Rhonda Howell mark the Susan G. Komen award to Duke Cancer Institute
Metastatic Breast Cancer Thrivers: Patient advocate Katrina Cooke, Komen Development Director Pam Kohl, and patient advocate Rhonda Howell, in Oct. 2018. Cooke and Howell are both participating in three new DCI/UNC Lineberger metastatic breast cancer research projects made possible by the Susan G. Komen MBC Collaborative Research Initiative.

The grants have been made possible by the Susan G. Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Initiative, an innovative, first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Susan G. Komen organization, Duke Cancer Institute, and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Komen Development Director Pam Kohl, who spearheaded the initiative, is a metastatic breast cancer thriver being treated at Duke Cancer Institute.

“Research is HOPE for the far too many of us who are living with MBC," said Kohl in a press release from Komen. "This disease is smart, and it is relentless, but I know that these brilliant researchers at UNC and Duke will work every day to help give us the gift of time.”

All three project teams include researchers as well as cancer patient advocates who have a personal stake in this fight.

Breast cancer that has metastasized — most commonly to the bones, liver, lungs or brain — has a 5-year relative survival rate of only 29%. Metastatic breast cancer kills more than 44,000 people in the U.S. every year.

"I am confident that when patients and researchers come together as one that the needle will begin to move on metastatic breast cancer and make a life and death difference in the lives of those like me," said 10-year MBC survivor Katrina Cooke, a patient advocate with Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast and member of the Duke Cancer Institute Oncology Patient and Family Advisory Council who's also on one of the DCI/UNC Lineberger research project teams. "By being a part of this groundbreaking research I will be able to provide input and insight as an actual metastatic breast cancer patient on the design, conduct, analysis, and dissemination of the findings.” 

Zachary Hartman, PhD (Duke Cancer Institute) and Benjamin Vincent, MD

Zachary Hartman, PhD
Zachary Hartman, PhD

(UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center) are the recipients of the Susan G. Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Grant, which was supported by funds raised by individuals and organizations in North Carolina and across the country. Their research team will develop a personalized anti-tumor vaccine strategy for patients with advanced triple negative breast cancer that would mobilize the body’s immune system (primarily T cells) to shut down tumor growth and metastasis. 

Ultimately, they hope to test this in Phase I proof-of-concept clinical trials at Duke and UNC in conjunction with biotech company *Replicate Bioscience, Inc., the maker of the vaccine.

“This collaboration will be essential to moving into the next phase of research — clinical trials,” said Hartman. “Patient advocates will be an active part of our team and will meet with us on a regular basis to see data and provide feedback. In the long term, they’ll be instrumental to patient engagement and advocacy in support of the Phase I clinical trial.”

Jennifer Freedman, PhD and Steve Patierno, PhD (Duke Cancer Institute) and Katherine Hoadley, PhD (UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center) are the recipients of the Susan G. Komen and Blue Cross NC Metastatic Breast Cancer Disparities Collaborative Research Grant. Their research team will identify differences in RNA splicing and differences in

Steven Patierno and Jennifer Freedman
Steve Patierno, PhD, and Jennifer
Freedman, PhD, in the Patierno/
Freedman/George Lab for Cancer
Research. (pre-COVID-19 pandemic)

immune system characteristics between metastatic breast cancer patients of African versus European ancestry. The team hopes to determine if and how these differences impact the growth and spread of breast cancer.

“Due to significant disparities in breast cancer outcomes for Black women, a greater understanding of the role that these underlying biological mechanisms play in breast cancer metastasis is essential to the development of better treatments and improved outcomes,” said Freedman, co-director of the Patierno/Freedman/George Lab for Cancer Research. “Ultimately, the work will improve outcomes for Black women with metastatic breast cancer as well as for women of all races and ethnicities with breast cancer that grows and spreads more quickly.”

Terry Hyslop, PhD (Duke Cancer Institute) and Melissa Troester, PhD

Terry Hyslop PhD
Terry Hyslop, PhD

(UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center) are the recipients of the Susan G. Komen and Gilead Sciences, Inc. Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Grant. Their research team will leverage high quality, individual-level tumor biology and social determinants of health data from the Carolina Breast Cancer Study (CBCS) with community-level variables in order to better understand disparities. Researchers will evaluate how stress contributes to higher metastasis rates and worse breast cancer outcomes in Black women as compared to white women.

“As we consider the important social constructs in this work, we are partnering with Tomi Akinyemiju, PhD, DCI Associate Director for Community Outreach, Engagement and Equity, who

Tomi Akinyemiju, PhD
Tomi Akinyemiju, PhD

focuses on the impact of stress on triple negative breast cancer in Black women in Nigeria,” said Hyslop, a professor in the Department of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics, Duke University School of Medicine, who has been researching disparities in breast cancer for many years. “We anticipate that results from our study will be useful in identifying characteristics of sub-populations that would potentially benefit from either behavioral/lifestyle interventions and/or treatment trials targeted at improving breast cancer outcomes, particularly for metastatic patients.”

Michael B. Kastan, MD, PhD, executive director of Duke Cancer Institute, expressed his gratitude to Susan G. Komen for “their long-term dedication to improving approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer."

"Metastatic breast cancer remains a major challenge and this visionary funding mechanism brings together outstanding investigators and physicians from two neighboring institutions in collaborative projects that will make a difference for women in the state of North Carolina and around the country,” said Kastan, who participated in a cancer-science-star-studded hybrid LIVE/virtual event hosted by Susan G. Komen on Wednesday night (Oct. 13) to announce the grant awards.


Read more about the MBC project overview and a Q&A with Terry Hyslop, PhD, Jennifer Freedman, PhD and Zachary Hartman, PhD at this link.



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