With the three-year, $4.6 million grant awarded exclusively for breast cancer research, M. D. Anderson continues to hold more SPORE grants than any other institution in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute, 58 such grants have been awarded nationally focusing on 14 disease sites.
M. D. Anderson currently holds SPORE grants in leukemia and melanoma as well as cancers of the pancreas, ovaries, uterus, head and neck, bladder and prostate, and shares a lung cancer SPORE grant with UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. With the breast cancer SPORE and the recent renewal of the ovarian cancer SPORE, the 10 grants total more than $107 million.
Gabriel Hortobagyi, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Breast Medical Oncology, is the principal investigator of the newest SPORE overseeing the administration of the grant as well as one of the five major research projects. Working with Hortobagyi will be Co-Principal Investigator Mien-Chie Hung, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology.
"The five research projects that the SPORE will fund not only are innovative and exciting, but four are studies that originated in M. D. Anderson labs and now have the opportunity to advance much more rapidly," said Hortobagyi. "The projects reflect a balance between early-stage breast cancer, which often can be successfully treated, and advanced disease, which can be very challenging. In addition, it was important that we address specific needs and biology of minority populations. Ultimately, we want to make an impact on breast cancer science, treatment, detection and prevention worldwide."
The SPORE grant for breast cancer will fund these five primary projects, all of which advance personalized risk assessment, detection and treatment:
- Molecular and epidemiologic classification of early-stage breast cancer tumors
With a special emphasis on minorities, researchers will study molecular and genetic characteristics of early breast cancer tumors to determine new indicators or markers to more accurately predict risk, detect cancer or measure response to treatment.
- Cyclin E as a novel and powerful prognosticator for breast cancer
First discovered by M. D. Anderson researchers in 2002, this new molecular tag may be helpful to physicians in predicting which breast cancer patients need more aggressive treatment and which can forego potentially toxic chemotherapy. The SPORE grant will allow this discovery to be taken to the next steps in the lab and clinic, validating cyclin E as a valuable tool.
- Treatment of metastatic breast cancer with gene-modified mesenchymal stem cells
In 2003 in another discovery made in an M. D. Anderson lab, genetically engineered stem cells were found to home in on tumors and then produce biological killing agents at the site of the cancer. Researchers will study the mesenchymal stem cells in the microenvironment of the tumor and other models, ultimately taking the delivery system to clinical trials in patients with advanced breast cancer.
- PTEN deficiency and trastuzumab (Herceptin) resistance
Applying their findings published in 2004, researchers will explore new ways to use the protein, PTEN, to predict response and resistance to trastuzumab (Herceptin), a powerful drug used in the treatment of breast cancer patients whose tumors are HER-2 positive. Research in this area ultimately could yield new therapies that inhibit a tumor's resistance to a drug proven to be effective.
- Targeting breast cancer-specific gene therapy
Building on earlier discoveries, researchers will take into the clinic a Phase I gene therapy trial that transports Bik, a gene that has been found in early studies to suppress breast tumor development and induce cell death, to the tumor.
The SPORE grant for breast cancer brings together 28 M. D. Anderson faculty representing 13 disciplines.