Taking Aim at Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Gift from Val Skinner Foundation helps Rutgers Cancer Institute Precision Medicine Program
September 27, 2016

pink ribbonNew Brunswick, N.J. – The precision medicine approach involving DNA sequencing to pinpoint specific alterations that can be targeted with anti-cancer therapies is becoming an alternate treatment avenue for those with poor-responding cancers.  But there are still some subsets of disease that are elusive to this approach.  Such is the case for triple-negative breast cancer, but investigators in the Precision Medicine Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey are on track to change that, thanks to a $50,000 gift from the Val Skinner Foundation. 

The Val Skinner Foundation through the years has contributed just under $5 million to Rutgers Cancer Institute including its LIFE (Ladies Professional Golf Association Pros In the Fight to Eradicate Breast Cancer) Center, named in recognition of the advocacy put forth by the Foundation and its namesake, LPGA veteran Val Skinner.   The LIFE Center provides treatment and programs designed to educate young women and their families about breast cancer and breast health. Other gifts from the Val Skinner Foundation have supported research tools and additional aspects of precision medicine research at Rutgers Cancer Institute. This latest gift to precision medicine was given in the name of Malaya Southern Kelly, a vibrant young woman, newlywed and member of her local roller derby team, who passed away from stage IV, triple-negative breast cancer in 2014 at the age of 34.  She participated in numerous clinical trials, but unfortunately, standard genomic analysis of her tumor to identify potential drugable targets did not identify a viable treatment plan.

“Despite the many advances made in the area of breast cancer through the years, and more recently through precision medicine, triple-negative breast cancer remains a very challenging disease that leads to the death of too many women. It is imperative that investigators are provided with the tools they need to find answers so that young women like Malaya no longer have to endure the devastating impact of triple-negative breast cancer,” notes Foundation Chair Val Skinner. “Breast cancer research is a critical extension of the mission of the LIFE Center, and we are grateful that the Val Skinner Foundation recognizes and supports this very important work,” adds Deborah Toppmeyer, MD, chief medical officer and director of both the LIFE Center and Stacy Goldstein Breast Cancer Center at Rutgers Cancer Institute.

Researchers from Rutgers Cancer Institute have found that triple-negative breast cancer has mutations that are not easily found by standard sequencing technology.  “What we see in triple-negative breast cancer is that it contains many complex genomic rearrangements – almost like shifting letters around in a sentence to make new words.  These new words will pass the ‘spell check,’ but now there is a whole new meaning to the sentence,” notes Associate Director for Translational Science Shridar Ganesan, MD, PhD, who will be leading the new project examining triple-negative breast cancer.  “These resulting ‘fusion genes’ are powerful drivers of cancer growth but are often missed by standard genomic sequencing approaches.  They can be targeted with the right therapies, but we need to identify them first.  Initial results from our work indicate that triple-negative breast cancer may be prone to harboring these ‘fusion genes.’”

Dr. Ganesan and colleagues aim to use and validate a new sequencing approach that would specifically look for these ‘fusion genes’ in triple-negative breast cancer samples.  The expectation is that these ‘fusion genes’ might be found in ten to 15 percent of triple-negative breast cancer cases.  “But even if these actionable genes are only found in a few percent of triple-negative cases, the clinical impact may still be quite powerful, and we can get to work on developing therapeutic clinical trials.  We greatly appreciate the support of the Val Skinner Foundation in helping us continue with this work and remain on the cutting edge of discovering new treatments for our patients,” adds Ganesan, who is also an associate professor of medicine and pharmacology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Skinner notes that Ms. Southern Kelly was honored as a ‘LIFE Hero’ by the Val Skinner Foundation in 2013 – a symbol of all of those affected by breast cancer: “Malaya’s story is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done. Through the compassion, drive, expertise and dedication of those at Rutgers Cancer Institute, I remain hopeful that one day soon, we will have our answers.”

About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey (www.cinj.org) is the state’s first and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. As part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers Cancer Institute is dedicated to improving the detection, treatment and care of patients with cancer, and to serving as an education resource for cancer prevention both at its flagship New Brunswick location and at its Newark campus at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital. Physician-scientists across Rutgers Cancer Institute also engage in translational research, transforming their laboratory discoveries into clinical practice that supports patients on both campuses. To make a tax-deductible gift to support the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 848-932-8013 or visit www.cinj.org/giving. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheCINJ.

The Cancer Institute of New Jersey Network is comprised of hospitals throughout the state and provides the highest quality cancer care and rapid dissemination of important discoveries into the community. Flagship Hospital: Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. System Partner: Meridian Health (Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center, Riverview Medical Center, Southern Ocean Medical Center, and Bayshore Community Hospital). Affiliate Hospitals: JFK Medical Center, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset.

 

Contact: 
Michele Fisher
Phone: 
732-235-9872

 

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