Breast Cancer

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The UNC Breast Cancer Research Program has enjoyed exceptional growth with a broad range of studies starting with population-based studies into etiology and breast cancer behavior, molecular biology and genetics, biologically-driven clinical trials, health disparities research, and innovative approaches to bioinformatics, novel therapeutics and imaging. This growth has been permitted by a philosophy of interdisciplinary collaboration, bidirectional translational research, emphasis upon developmental programs, and inter-SPORE and inter-Center partnerships. Our ongoing success depends upon strategic recruitment and engagement of faculty in emerging fields, research that uses cutting-edge technology, and enhanced relationships with other centers and SPORE programs.

Our Vision

Our vision is of integrating basic science into clinical research and clinical questions into basic investigations. This approach has become increasingly important as the heterogeneity of breast cancer, first noted in Chuck Perou’s seminal “molecular portraits” Nature paper of 2001, means that breast cancer investigations from etiology to therapy are appropriately segregated into investigations based upon each of the distinct subtypes. These subtypes, which include the Luminal A and B subtypes making up the majority of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer and the Basal-like, HER2-enriched, and Claudin-low comprising the majority of hormone receptor-negative breast cancers, are biologically and behaviorally distinct. This holds great promise for the future of targeted and combinatorial approaches to poor prognosis subtypes, but also means that breast cancer research has become increasingly complex.

Rationally designed clinical trials targeting specific lesions within a subtype and tissue-based biomarker studies are seldom feasible within a single institution, and thus inter-institutional collaborations have become key to success. We have a long track record of inter-SPORE and inter-Center collaborations, among these include the development and validation of a qRT-PCR-based assay permitting intrinsic subtyping on fixed clinical specimens and successful completion within 18 months of a randomized phase II study of EGFR inhibition in basal-like breast cancer that included over 100 patients from 12 institutions.

Multiple highlights and high impact publications will be noted, but with pride we note that Chuck Perou was awarded the AACR Outstanding Investigator in Breast Cancer Research Award in 2009, the Danaher Scientific and Medical Award from the Susan G. Komen in 2011, and the European Institute of Oncology Breast Cancer Therapy Award in 2012, and Lisa Carey was awarded the NCI Director’s Service Award in 2010.

Collaborative Research

Critical to the Cancer Center's mission are member collaborations that permit translation of exciting basic science leads into clinical and laboratory based investigations. These efforts are directed toward advancing the state of clinical cancer care in our region, the state of North Carolina to which we have a unique relationship and responsibility, and the nation. This iterative process depends upon a well-organized clinical care system interacting with the university’s rich blend of basic and clinical investigators engaged in basic and population-based research. The Breast Cancer Research Program has this infrastructure and a uniquely integrated clinician/scientist network that facilitates delivery of novel findings.

Leadership

Given an increasing emphasis upon breast cancer-specific basic, translational, and epidemiologic studies, Breast Cancer Research was created as an independent Program in 2008 with Chuck Perou as the basic science co-Leader and Lisa Carey as the clinical research co-Leader.