Chapel Hill, NC – Charles M. Perou, PhD, professor of genetics, and pathology & laboratory medicine, and leader of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center breast cancer research program has been appointed the May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology Research. The professorship, established by a $1 million gift from Wally (class of ’66) and Lil Loewenbaum of Austin, Texas is named in honor of Mrs. Lowenbaum’s mother, May Goldman Shaw.
“Dr. Perou is an innovator and pioneer in the field of molecular oncology and breast cancer genomics. His work establishing distinct breast cancer subtypes through the use of gene expression analysis is internationally accepted as a seminal breakthrough. His findings over the past decade have measurably advanced our understanding of breast cancer causes and markedly influenced the design of modern clinical trials,” said Shelley Earp, MD, director of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Dr. Perou has the unusual ability to combine discovery, genetic technology and bioinformatics into results that are guiding therapy for our patients,” said William L. Roper, MD, MPH, Dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO of the UNC Health Care System.
“Generous alumni like the Loewenbaums understand that research is the only way to improve cancer treatment and that private support helps us attract and retain world-class researchers like Dr. Perou,” he added.
Dr. Perou’s research crosses the disciplines of biology, genetics, bioinformatics, epidemiology and the clinical treatment of breast cancer. His most widely cited contribution to the field has been leading an interdisciplinary UNC team that characterized the diversity of breast tumors using genomics, and has classified them in a way that helps physicians better understand why some cancers do not respond to standard therapies and to tailor treatment to the patient’s disease subtype.
He and his colleagues have demonstrated that breast cancer can be classified into five molecular subtypes, with his lab focusing particular attention on the basal-like and claudin-low tumor subtype (known collectively as triple-negative breast cancers), which have a poor prognosis. He is currently studying the genetic mechanisms that give rise to each tumor subtype and is using animal models and human clinical trial samples to define why certain sub-types are resistant to current therapies.
With UNC Lineberger members Dr. Robert Millikan, who is the Barbara Sorenson Hulka Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Dr. Lisa Carey, The Richardson and Marilyn Jacobs Preyer Distinguished Professor in Breast Cancer Research and director of the UNC Breast Center, Dr. Perou has translated these molecular finding to a much wider patient population. Using a North Carolina-based study of a population-representative set of breast cancer patients, this team found that younger African American women are diagnosed with one particular subtype, the basal-like tumor, approximately twice as often as their Caucasian counterparts – providing significant insight into racial outcomes disparities that have long been known to exist for breast cancer mortality. Their ongoing work is demonstrating that each breast cancer subtype has distinct risk factors, and distinct genetic mechanisms that drive each subtype.
Dr. Perou is also the recipient of the Komen/AACR 2009 Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research and the UNC Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement. He earned his BA in Biology at Bates College in Maine, his PhD in Cell Biology at the University of Utah, and performed his postdoctoral work in the laboratory of David Botstein (then of Stanford University). He has been a faculty member at UNC since 2000.