ghd and the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) are celebrating a 15-year partnership with over $4.5 million raised for breast cancer research.
To mark the 15th anniversary collaboration, ghd have teamed up with tattoo artist, David Allen, to create the limited-edition ‘Ink on Pink’ collection.
The Chicago-based artist created a unique design based on his signature floral patterns used to conceal mastectomy scars on women who have experienced breast cancer. $20 from every limited-edition Ink on Pink ghd styler sold will go towards breast cancer research.
“On behalf of ghd, I am extremely proud to celebrate the 15th anniversary of our partnership with NBCF. Over that period, with the support of our salon partner network and other partners, ghd has raised over $4.5M from our pink campaigns in Australia and $15M globally,” said Ludovic Dellazzeri, Managing Director of ghd Australia and New Zealand.
“Today, we are more committed than ever to help fight the disease with all our local partners by donating funds that go directly to prevention, assistance and research. Through our actions, ghd continues to support and empower women to help build back their confidence.”
Every day, 53 Australians are diagnosed with breast cancer. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country with more than 3000 Australians losing their lives to the disease this year alone. Research is the only way to improve how breast cancer can be diagnosed and treated.
Tattoo artist David Allen with Molly, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017
Over the course of the long-term partnership, ghd has raised a total of $4.5 million for NBCF. Funding at this level supports multiple world-class research projects – research that will help detect tumours earlier, improve treatment outcomes and ultimately – save lives. Since 1994, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer has increased from 76% to 91%. It’s proof NBCF’s research strategy is working as they strive to reach zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030.
NBCF CEO Professor Sarah Hosking thanked ghd for their generosity and commitment over the years and said that the funds raised will help NBCF make a significant impact.
“ghd has been a valued partner of NBCF for 15 years, raising an incredible amount for breast cancer research. On behalf of everyone at NBCF and all the women and men affected by breast cancer, thank you for your ongoing support,” she said.
About David Allen
David Allen is a Chicago-based tattoo artist who has been tattooing mastectomy scars for almost 10 years. David uses feminine floral patterns to conceal scarring which empowers women to reclaim their femininity after breast cancer and take back control over their body.
“If you think of hairstylists and the time they spend with their clients – the validation that happens when you hear someone’s story, when you’re listening, when you’re present… That matters. There’s healing in that,” said David.
Grace, a mother of three, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, at the age of 35. She had a double mastectomy as part of her treatment, followed by a breast reconstruction. In 2017, David tattooed over Grace’s mastectomy scars with his signature floral design.
“Cancer takes away more than your breasts. It takes your hair, your confidence. But my tattoo is something I decided to have because I wanted to take back control,” said Grace.
Molly was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31 in 2017. After undergoing a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, she went to David’s studio to get her scars concealed by his artwork. Molly’s mum, Deborah (who also experienced breast cancer), was by her side as she was tattooed.
“I didn’t expect or even believe that getting tattooed by David could make me feel beautiful again— it did—or that instead of feeling like a medical oddity, I would feel like I’m a walking piece of art and my body is the canvas,” says Molly.
Head here for more information on the limited-edition Ink on Pink hair stylers.
Associate Professor Pilar Blancafort. Photo: Tobey Black.
Gene editing is a relatively new technique which allows scientists to switch on or off particular genes in a cell. It is of particular interest in cancer, as tumour cells contain different genes to healthy cells. These cancer-specific genes can act as “on-switches” to encourage a tumour to grow, or they may cause the cancer to grow in a specific region, such as the breast. In addition, some genes are able to repair the intentional damage to cancer cells caused by chemotherapy or radiotherapy. This means that the cancer cell is able to fight the treatment, hence leading to poorer outcomes.
A new gene editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to control which genes are expressed, thus changing the function of cancer cells. In short, the technique works by inserting a small piece of customised genetic code into the genome by using an enzyme to cut away the part that needs to be replaced. The technology is faster, cheaper and more accurate than previous DNA editing techniques.
A new NBCF-funded study by Associate Professor Pilar Blancafort at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research will investigate the use of CRISPR-Cas9 technology for brain cancer and metastatic breast cancer. The project will target genes which allow the cancer cells to repair themselves during radiotherapy and chemotherapy, leading to treatment resistance.
Associate Professor Blancafort has developed specialised nanoparticles to transport the CRISPR-Cas9 therapeutics directly to the cancer cells.
“These nanoparticles are engineered to home in on the tumour, because they are targeted to a protein which is highly present on the cancer cell’s surface,” she explained. “These nanoparticles will be optimised to be able to get into the brain, where metastatic breast cancer cells often migrate.”
The study will aim to confirm that the nanoparticle transportation into the brain is effective and that the CRISPR-Cas9 treatment can stop tumour growth more powerfully in combination with standard treatments.
The project has been proudly supported by the NBCF and the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.
Associate Professor Pilar Blancafort. Photo: Tobey Black.
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) has partnered with the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation in a bid to connect the dots between breast and brain cancer.
The aim is to tackle the most critical clinical questions affecting women diagnosed with breast and/or brain cancer.
A NBCF-funded study by Associate Professor Pilar Blancafort will investigate a new gene editing technology for brain cancer and metastatic breast cancer that will look at new treatments for highly resistant types of cancers.
The project will target genes which allow the cancer cells to repair themselves during radiotherapy and chemotherapy, leading to treatment resistance.
Associate Professor Blancafort will address difficult-to-treat cancers “by specifically targeting the subtypes of cancer with the worst prognosis for which there are no cures or targeted approaches available, with innovative treatments that are selective for these patients.”
Her research is vital for NBCF’s target of achieving zero deaths from breast cancer by 2030.
When Mitch Gardner’s mum, Narelle, was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time last October, Mitch decided to lop off his locks to raise money for breast cancer research.
For Mitch, who has had a ‘man bun’ for seven years, the decision to shave his head was an easy one. “My hair has always been quite important to me being a young male, so being able to shave my head in front of my family and friends would not only be a good way to bring everyone together, but show mum that we are not alone in this and that we have hundreds of people who are there for her,” says the Zero Hero.
Mitch had two separate events for the occasion. The first was a 42-kilometre marathon row held across five F45 fitness studios where members from each class could donate or join in for the team. At the second event, Mitch sold raffle tickets, raised money through donations boxes, and of course, shaved his head for breast cancer.
Thanks to the generosity of the community, Mitch more than doubled his original target of $10, 000 and raised a whopping $21, 988.
“Having the shave take place in a public place, where people can sit, have a drink, eat and donate at the same time was a great idea,” he said about increasing awareness of the event. “Social media awareness was a huge impact for us, sharing our story to all of our friends and family, our workplace, and having others share our story to their friends and family made a massive difference.”
Mitch with his mum, Narelle
Mitch hopes that by donating to research, people experiencing breast cancer – like his mum – will have more effective treatment outcomes in the future.
“Breast cancer affects so many families and the money going towards the research to completely eradicate breast cancer or even prolong someone’s life – such as my beautiful mother’s – is too important to not care about,” says Mitch.
“If the money we have raised can help another family like mine, or even fund research for more treatment, then I’ll be happy.”
Are you feeling inspired by Mitch’s head shave? Sign up to become a Zero Hero, here.
Advanced breast cancer is less common in pre-menopausal women than in older women, but the rate is increasing. Between 1976 and 2009, the incidence of advanced breast cancer in women between 25 and 39 years of age has increased by 2% each year. Unfortunately, it is the leading cause of cancer death in women between 20 and 59 years of age.
However, treatments are also rapidly improving. In particular, contemporary research often focuses on the use of combination therapies. Recently published results from the MONALEESA-7 trial has confirmed that adding the targeted enzyme inhibitor drug ribociclib to standard-of-care endocrine therapy can significantly improve outcomes in pre-menopausal women. In the trial, women who took the combination therapy had a 42-month survival rate of 70%, compared with a survival rate of 46% in those on the hormone therapy alone.
“This is the first study to show improved survival for any targeted therapy when used with endocrine therapy as a first-line treatment for advanced breast cancer,” said lead study author Dr. Sara Hurvitz, Director of the Breast Cancer Clinical Research Program at UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles. “The use of ribociclib as a front-line therapy significantly prolonged overall survival, which is good news for women with this terrible disease.”
Ribociclib inhibits the activity of enzymes in the body that can promote cancer, known as cyclin-dependent 4/6 kinases (CDK 4/6). The study showed that the combination therapy was tolerated well in a group of 672 women, and improved survival outcomes.
Australian-based breast cancer researcher, Dr Theresa Hickey (University of Adelaide), welcomed the results of this study. Dr Hickey, who was not involved in the study, said, “Combination therapy for breast cancer is definitely a window to a future of improved survival and this study firmly opens that window for many women.”
The next step is to establish whether some groups of patients benefit more from the combination treatment. The research team will analyse the wealth of data from the MONALEESA-7 trial, and look at whether certain biomarkers can predict outcomes. In addition, ribociclib is also being investigated as a possible treatment in early breast cancer.
Mammography is the primary diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer with 800,000 women X-rayed annually in Australia. However, it fails to detect 30% of breast cancers, with many missed lesions being visible on the image.
To address this issue, a new training program has been developed by NBCF-funded researcher, Professor Patrick Brennan. He, along with colleagues from the University of Sydney and the Cancer Institute NSW, is working on a number of ways to improve the detection of breast cancer using mammograms and other new technologies.
“Our research aims to improve the identification of cancers that are difficult to visualise, while also improving the ability to recognise normal images so that women are not recalled for another mammogram unnecessarily,” explained Professor Brennan. “Radiologists in Australia do an amazingly good job at finding disease within a very complex image background, however cancers are still missed and my main task is to establish procedural and technical solutions to this.”
To do this, he has developed along with Professor Warwick Lee and Director Kriscia Tapia a training program called the Breast Screen Reader Assessment Strategy (known as BREAST for short). The BREAST program is a web-based tool, which can be completed by radiologists and breast imaging specialists in any location. A recent study led by Dr. Phuong Trieu, published in the journal Academic Radiology, suggested that the program improves the ability of radiologists to detect breast cancer lesions on a mammogram, no matter their level of experience.
The study enrolled 50 radiologists (40 fellows, 10 registrars) who completed three BREAST test sets and 17 radiologists who completed four test sets. Each test set had 20 biopsy proven cancer and 40 normal cases. Immediate feedback was provided to clinicians after the completion of the test sets, which allowed the comparison of their selection with the truth. The results showed that the ability of clinicians to correctly detect areas of abnormal tissue (called lesion sensitivity) improved after completing the training program. 83% of radiologists (fellows) showed improvements in lesion sensitivity after their first set. Furthermore, 100% of registrars increased their scores in lesion sensitivity after the training program.
The BREAST training program is currently being used in Australia and New Zealand, and workshops have been provided in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The approach used by BREAST can be delivered online and used anywhere around the world, including remote and rural locations, leading to improved care for millions of women.
Professor Brennan says the outcome of this study is testament to the hard work of his team, and the support of funding from the NBCF, the Cancer Institute NSW and the Department of Health.
“Research will make a real and quick difference,” he said. “Every day we are presenting new knowledge that will impact upon preventative and curative strategies for breast cancer.”
While the overall prognosis for breast cancer has improved dramatically in recent years, there is still a need for better, targeted therapies with reduced toxicity. The human immune system is generally ineffective against breast cancer, and fails to generate the response required to eradicate the disease. Therefore, treatment approaches that encourage a patient’s own immune cells to attack the cancer are of immense therapeutic interest.
A novel class of drugs, called Smac-mimetics, are emerging as potent anti-cancer agents. These drugs can directly kill the cancer cells, but are also thought to promote an immune response. Thus, combining Smac-mimetics with known immunotherapies, such as anti-PD1 (Keytruda) or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR T) therapy, is likely to provide greater therapeutic benefit overall.
This theory has recently been tested by NBCF-funded researcher, Dr Jane Oliaro, from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Dr Oliaro and her team showed that a combination treatment of a Smac-mimetic drug called birinapant and CAR T cell immunotherapy significantly reduced tumour growth in an animal model. The tumour suppression effect was significantly better for the combination treatment than for either of the therapies alone.
The researchers then confirmed their findings by trialling the drugs on three-dimensional “tumoroids”, which are grown from biopsies of patients. They found similar results in these models, and are now excited to progress the combination treatment to patient trials in the near future.
“Although these findings still need to be validated in clinical trials, our results suggest that birinapant combined with CAR T therapy may be a novel treatment approach that helps patients fight against breast cancer by improving their immune response,” said Dr Oliaro. “The results will pave the way for the development of novel combination treatments for breast cancer.”
The study was recently published in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Immunology Research , and was funded by the generous donations of NBCF supporters.
“Donations play a critical role in facilitating a huge amount of medical research in Australia. Government funding is very limited, and we rely on the generosity of the public to provide us with the resources to conduct our research using the latest technologies,” Dr Oliaro said.
“I am very proud to regale people with the success stories in cancer research. The cure rates for childhood leukemia are approaching 90%, thanks to research. We need to continue to add more success stories, and given the toll that breast cancer has on women, donations to breast cancer research can lead to life changing outcomes.”
Adelaide-local Andreanna Belperio raised an incredible $78,000 by shaving her head for the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).
Inspired by her late mother-in-law, Rose, who passed away from breast cancer, Andreanna originally set out to achieve $30, 000. Soon into her fundraising event, however, it became clear she’d go above and beyond that target.
The hairdresser organised a live auction where the highest bidder would get the chance to cut off her hair (all 66cm in length!) and then shave her head. After a nerve-racking auction, her father-in-law, brother-in-law and the Belperio family bid a generous $15,000 for the honour.
Although Andreanna knew she wanted to raise funds for breast cancer research, it was only after she saw Rose lose her hair from chemotherapy that she decided to sign up to be a Zero Hero.
“I always wanted to do a fundraiser for Rose. She hated losing her hair through chemo but she didn’t have a choice – I did, which was why I chose to shave my head,” says Andreanna.
Rose was diagnosed with breast cancer five-and-half years ago.
“She found a lump in her breast, got tested and was operated on almost immediately,” says Andreanna.
Andreanna was inspired by the late Rose to fundraise for breast cancer research
“Afterwards she had chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but I never really knew her without cancer. She passed away after the cancer spread to her liver.”
Andreanna says Rose was like a “second mum” to her from the moment she began dating her son, Samuel, who she has since married.
Andreanna’s hair length measured in at 66cm before she braved the shave
“Rose would have been so honoured and grateful if she saw this. Shaving my head was so worth it for the $78,000 raised,” she says.
“She was loved by more people than anyone could ever imagine, that’s why we raised so much. It was all for her.”
She added: “Breast cancer is never going to be easy for anyone to go through but hopefully with the money raised, new treatments will be discovered and it will make a difference.”
Are you feeling inspired by Andreanna’s story? Sign up to become a Zero Hero, here.
Often exciting scientific advances come from chance conversations or unlikely collaborations. This is certainly the case for a new Australian study into the role of the immune system in cancer. The work started off with a “pie-in-the sky” idea from an immunologist Dr Els Meeusen, who is an expert in the treatment of parasites in sheep.
While the two areas do not seem to have much in common at first, the collaboration (between La Trobe University, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre) has produced exciting results.
NBCF-funded study investigator, Associate Professor Elgene Lim, explains that the aim of the study was to better understand how our immune system can help to fight cancer cells in the body.
“This project was built on harnessing some of the similarities between a patient’s immune response to cancer and an animal’s immune response to infection,” he explained.
In the study, samples of cells from the lymph nodes of 20 women with breast cancer were collected. The lymph nodes are small lumps of tissue which filter waste fluid from the body. Due to the presence of toxins in this fluid, the lymph nodes contain high numbers of infection-fighting cells. Researchers used the samples to see what type of immune system proteins, or “antibodies”, were being produced to help fight the breast cancer.
They found that all the women in the study were producing antibodies that were directed against breast cancer, providing evidence that the immune system is helping fight against the tumours. In addition, each of the 20 women produced a different range of antibodies. This suggests that treatments that aim to support the immune system, or immunotherapies, likely need to be personalised for individual patients for the best outcomes.
Associate Professor Lim says that the study highlights the important role antibodies play in cancer.
“Our findings add to the growing literature of the role of the immune system in breast cancer,” he said. “The test we have developed could allow us to identify the type of antibody immune response generated in each specific patient, allowing us to better develop individualised treatment regimes.”
Associate Professor Lim and Dr Meeusen also acknowledged the generosity of the NBCF donors, whose support enabled this “blue-sky” study to be completed with an NBCF Innovation Grant.
Estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer is the most common form of the disease, in which cancer cells grow in response to the estrogen hormone. Estrogen, and another hormone called progesterone, are often referred to as “female” hormones. Their connection with breast cancer has been well documented. However, there is controversy on the role of the so-called “male” hormones, known as androgens, in breast cancer.
The androgen receptor (AR) protein is expressed in over 75% of hormonal breast cancers. In prostate cancer, targeting and blocking the AR protein has been a successful treatment option, but whether a similar approach can be taken in breast cancer is unclear. Until now, there has been controversy as to whether we should try to activate or block the AR protein in people with breast cancer.
Associate Professor Elgene Lim is a National Breast Cancer Foundation Endowed Chair based at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney. He is concerned that the controversy is impacting the development of new treatments for hormone-related breast cancer.
“There is confusion on whether it is best to stimulate or inhibit the role of AR in endocrine resistant breast cancer (cancers that have become resistant to treatment that stops estrogen and progesterone from helping tumours to grow), largely because the preclinical modelling up to now has been suboptimal,” Associate Professor Lim explained. “This confusion has resulted in clinical trials being conducted simultaneously with drugs that either stimulate or inhibit AR activity.”
New research by Associate Professor Lim and his colleagues will now provide further clarity on this issue. The recent NBCF-funded study identified the components of AR signaling that contribute to hormone-related cancer, helping to provide better evidence for the choice of treatment drugs.
The study investigated a drug called enzalutamide, which is an AR inhibitor that has been used successfully for treatment of prostate cancer, and also utilised other techniques to dissect the role of AR in endocrine resistant breast cancer. Their study showed that while enzalutamide was not effective at treating endocrine resistant breast cancer. However, the study has identified other components of AR function that could result in anti-tumour activity. This provides new potential treatment alternatives, which will now be investigated in further research studies.
“Our work will provide the critical preclinical rationale for the most effective way to target the AR, a commonly expressed protein, in breast cancer,” said Associate Professor Lim. “This is an area of clinical need, as while current endocrine therapies are effective, approximately 30% of patients will have their cancer recur in spite of treatment.”
The study was recently published in the journal Endocrine-Related Cancer and was funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation in conjunction with Cancer Australia.