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Dr. Sofia Merajver is a professor of Internal Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Michigan, where she is also Scientific Director of the Merajver Breast Cancer Research Program and Director of the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Program.

As you’ll hear, Dr. Merajver – who has been a BCRF Investigator since 2004 – discusses her unique, collaborative and extraordinarily human approach to one of the most significant science questions of our time: How to find new strategies for the prevention and treatment of metastatic breast cancer.

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It was among the biggest cancer news stories of the year: A new study – the largest breast cancer treatment trial ever conducted – showed no benefit from chemotherapy for 70 percent of women with the most common type of breast cancer. As the Washington Post described, that means: “most patients who have an intermediate risk of a cancer recurrence — a group that numbers 65,000 women a year in the United States — can avoid chemotherapy and its often debilitating side effects.”

The TAILORx trial, as it is known, is helping change everyday procedures in the everyday lives of patients around the world. And the lead author is our guest today.

Dr. Joseph Sparano is Professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is Vice-Chair, ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group and has been a BCRF Investigator since 2012.

I asked Dr. Sparano about the TAILORx study and how it feels to have been part of such landmark work. But I also asked Dr. Sparano about what’s next – about new work he’s doing around breast cancer recurrence – specifically relapses that occur many years after original diagnosis. 

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How does cancer grow? Why do some cancers react positively to treatment while others seem to resist? Understanding these relationships, the genetic events and cell-to-cell interactions that lead to cancer, not only can provide better understanding of how cancer develops, but also drive potential new targets for drug development. Understanding these relationships also essential to the incredible work being done by Dr. Ben Ho Park.

Dr. Park was recently appointed as co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Program, Associate Director for Translational Research, and Director of Precision Oncology at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville. He's been a BCRF investigator since 2008, and as you'll hear at the top, he also has a unique creative talent that surely won't directly lead to solving breast cancer, but it does to seem to make his lab an engaging and fun place to work. And who knows, perhaps in some way that creative culture is part of what inspires Dr. Park's creative research approaches.

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Dr. Hedvig Hricak: is, among many other roles, Chairman, Department of Radiology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She also recently was honored by BCRC with the 2018 Jill Rose Award for outstanding research excellence. As you will hear, Dr. Hricak is extraordinary – not just in her work helping merge imaging technology with molecular medicine, but also in her teaching across borders.

Among her wonderful lines in this conversation: “The best thing in life is to give,” and “The richness of life is in diversity.” Another one: “You are only as good as your tomorrow. So you have to continuously reinvest yourself. You have to learn and believe that with your experience, you’ll make a difference in patients’ lives.”

Listen to this podcast, and you’ll know exactly what she means and the difference she makes in patients’ lives.

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Breast cancer and technology. At first glance, they seem like totally separate topics. After this conversation, you’ll not only better understand the connection, but you’ll be waiting to learn what comes next.As you’ll hear, thanks to technology developed by our guest Dr. Michael Wigler – in collaboration with BCRF colleague James Hicks – researchers can now study breast cancer at the single-cell level, setting the stage for the development of new diagnostic tools that will aid in therapeutic management of the disease.Since then, Dr. Wigler has continued to go small – focusing on the interactions between cancer cells and the host microenvironment. It’s a fascinating approach.Some background: Dr. Michael Wigler is the Russell and Janet Doubleday Professor of Cancer Research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.  He is a recipient of numerous awards and honors and is a member of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Wigler also has been a BCRF Investigator since 1998.

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Today, we have an outstanding and thoughtful conversation on stress, breast cancer, and the science of survivorship. We all, of course, experience stress, work, family, money, but what about health, in particular, cancers like breast cancer? Obviously dealing with illness, indeed dealing with ongoing treatments and procedures brings stress to a whole new level.

How can women undergoing breast cancer treatments manage that stress? Perhaps more significantly, are there scientifically researched and proven approaches that not only help increase their health and wellbeing, but even improve the recovery process and results?

This is the important work that Dr. Annette Stanton does. Dr. Stanton is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatrist Bio-Behavioral Sciences at UCLA. She's also a senior research scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and a member of the Center for Cancer Prevention and Control Research in the Johnson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Through research, Dr. Stanton identifies factors that promote or impede psychological and physical health in adults and couples undergoing chronically stressful experiences with a focus on the experience of cancers of the breast, pancreas, eye, and lung. She then translates her findings into action by developing and testing approaches to enhance psychological and physical health over the course of the cancer trajectory.

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It sounds like something out of Game of Thrones: Attack the weakness. Today, we apply the phrase to a more important and real battle – the one against breast cancer.As you’ll hear, Dr. Alan Ashworth is part of a team that developed something called PARP Inhibitors and, quite creatively, identified ways to use them to attack the weaknesses of various cancers, including breast cancer. As a recent new report noted, “with three recent FDA approvals, and a number of Phase 3 trials ongoing, the drugs are seeing a surge in interest.”How do PARP Inhibitors work and what might they mean for attacking cancers’ weaknesses?That’s just part of what I discussed with Dr. Ashworth.   Some background: He’s the President, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center; Senior Vice President for Cancer Services of UCSF Health; and a Professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at UCSF’s Department of Medicine. Dr. Ashworth is an elected member of EMBO, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has won a number of the world’s leading scientific prizes and awards, and he’s also a BCRF Investigator since 2008.
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Most women who die of breast cancer die from metastatic disease, the spread of tumor cells to different parts of the body. Metastasis often results following treatment failure, but it also can occur decades after what was thought to be successful treatment. Currently, no curative therapies exist for metastatic breast cancer.But today, the race to develop effective treatments for this disease is a key focus of some extraordinary research, much of it centering on cancer cells’ protein synthesis machinery and a protein called mTOR.What’s the status of this research – and what might some practical outcomes look like?I just had an incredibly thoughtful conversation with Dr. Robert Schneider. He’s the Associate Director of the NYU Cancer Institute, Director of Translational Cancer Research, and Co-director of the Breast Cancer Research Program at NYU School of Medicine. He’s also a BCRF Investigator since 2002.

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Well-designed randomized clinical trials may provide information about prevention strategies and effective treatments for women at risk of, or diagnosed with, breast cancer. A major limitation of clinical trials, however, is that results apply to the trial group as a whole, but not necessarily to each individual woman. That’s because individual responses are influenced by the patient's and the tumor's unique DNA, or genetic profile.

So how might researchers precisely identify risks for individual women based on protein and gene biomarkers to predict outcomes for breast cancer treatment or even prevention? 

Dr. Jack Cuzick is a Director of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London. He is also head of the Centre for Cancer Prevention and John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Queen Mary, University of London. In 2007, he was chosen by Thompson Scientific as one of the 12 hottest researchers in all of science. He was awarded the AACR Cancer Prevention Prize in 2012. He has been a BCRF Investigator since 2011.

As one cancer research site puts his impact best: “Professor Cuzick’s work on breast cancer treatment and prevention has been instrumental in reducing the number of women losing their lives to the disease.”

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Immunotherapy – treating a disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response – remains one of the biggest hopes in terms of potentially finding a breast cancer cure. And yet, it also remains an incredibly challenging discipline. What works for one type of cancer may not for another. Why is that? What lessons can researchers take from successful cases – melanoma, lung or other cancers – and apply to breast cancer? And where, exactly, are researchers in finding an immunology answer for breast cancer?To find out, I spoke with one the nation’s leading researchers in the field, Dr. Jedd Wolchok. Dr. Wolchok is Chief of the Melanoma and Immunotherapeutics Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. A BCRF Investigator since 2011, he has helped establish the center as a leader in the discovery and treatment of cancers with novel immunotherapies. He has been at the forefront of cancer immunotherapy, as an active clinician scientist exploring innovative strategies in laboratory models and as a principal investigator in numerous pivotal clinical trials. He’s also, as I learned, proficient with the tuba. I confess – I didn’t see that one coming.

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