Breakthroughs in breast cancer cannot happen without an open dialogue between all parties who want to see the disease become a thing of the past. It requires conversations with the clinicians who treat patients, the scientists looking at the disease from new angles, the advocates working tirelessly to increase public awareness and obtain crucial funding, and the patients who want to live their lives, with all of these groups working together to ensure better lives for future generations at risk for the disease.
Over the course of two days, that dialogue flourished at The Wistar Institute. People from across the country gathered at Wistar for two separate events —one aimed at the general public, the other at scientists and clinicians actively studying the disease — dedicated to discussing the latest advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
On May 9, Wistar hosted “Breakthroughs in Breast Cancer Research,” an event co-sponsored by Susan G. Komen Philadelphia, the Jayne Koskinas Ted Giovanis Foundation for Health and Policy, and Wistar. A multidisciplinary panel talked about what they were actively doing to study the disease, treat it, and advocate for better resources. Many in attendance were people whose lives were deeply impacted by breast cancer.
Elaine Grobman, CEO of Susan G. Komen Philadelphia, discussed how valuable the advocates and support of the Foundation have been in the city, stating that more than $55 million has been raised since the first Race for the Cure event took place in Philadelphia 26 years ago. This year’s event took place the day before Elaine spoke at Wistar.
“In the years since we started here, we have really made great strides, and we are proud to support Wistar and other Philadelphia institutions with the money that’s been raised by people like you,” Grobman told the audience.
Grobman was joined by luminaries in breast cancer research and treatment. Robert Clarke, Ph.D., dean of research at Georgetown University Medical Center and co-director of Georgetown’s Breast Cancer Program, and Frank J. Rauscher, III, Ph.D., Caspar Wistar Professor and deputy director of The Wistar Institute Cancer Center, were able to discuss the strides that have been made in hormonal and genetic research related to breast cancer.
Clarke discussed emerging trends in therapies and how combinations of therapies may overcome resistance to treatment, while Rauscher educated the audience about how basic research is being used to tackle the problem of residual disease, when tumor cells linger even after treatment and eventually spread to other organs and cause new tumors to develop.
Julia Tchou, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Clinical Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, and Samuel Waxman, M.D., Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine of Hematology/Medical Oncology and Mt. Sinai Medical Center, discussed the treatment of breast cancer.
Tchou spoke to the importance of collaboration and how, as a surgeon, she is working with immunologists to develop treatment strategies to rid the body of cancer while training the immune system to fight breast cancer. Waxman addressed how partnerships among activists and researchers have become a crucial part of how new discoveries are made.
“I think it’s great that foundations get involved with advocates to support research,” Waxman said. “I’ve seen a huge change in how we are able to deal with breast cancer as a result.”
The thoroughly engaged audience asked the panel about topics that were important to them, such as advocacy, the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer (a form of breast cancer that cannot be treated my hormonal therapies), genetic research, and other pressing topics that require immediate solutions.
After the event, the panel met with attendees at a special reception, and Rauscher invited several guests up to his lab at Wistar to see the kind of equipment used to make important scientific discoveries about breast cancer.
On May 10, scientists from around the country gathered for a full day of discussion about the latest technology and research surrounding breast cancer. This event was run by scientists for scientists, and they discussed everything from clinical management of the disease to immunotherapies, a field generating considerable interest for the treatment of many cancer types. The inaugural Jayne Koskinas Memorial Lecture in Breast Cancer Research was given by Nobel Laureate Carol Greider, Ph.D., the Daniel Nathans Professor and director of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who discussed the role of telomeres and stem cells in breast cancer.
The Wistar Institute would like to thank our partners at the Jayne Koskinas Ted Giovanis Foundation for Health and Policy and Susan G. Komen Philadelphia for making these events – the first ever of their kind at Wistar – an enormous success.