PHILADELPHIA -- Penn Medicine's Basser Center for BRCA announced $375,000 in new grant funding to support BRCA-focused research projects across the nation. The grants are aimed at advancing the care of patients living with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. The Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which houses the Basser Center, will administer the awards. The grants represent the second year of funding under the Basser External Research Grant Program, which supports translational cancer research projects with strong potential to advance rapidly into clinical practice. To date, the Center has awarded over $1.75 million in grant funding through the program.
"The projects funded this year are among the most promising of BRCA-related cancer research anywhere," said Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA and the Basser Professor of Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center. "Our colleagues across the country are doing exceptional work to continue providing real hope to at-risk patients, and we are pleased to play a role in ensuring that their research is given every opportunity to be completed, and potentially applied to patient care."
Four new projects are receiving Basser Innovation Awards this year.
- Principal investigator Geoffrey Shapiro, MD, PhD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and colleagues will examine the use of a specific protein, THZ-5-31-1, which may stop the body from accidentally repairing breast cancer cells, rather than letting them die after being treated with PARP inhibitors, a class of drugs proven to be effective in the treatment of breast and other cancers.
- Knowing the protein make-up of a tumor can help predict how a patient will respond to different types of cancer treatments. Principal investigator Zoltan Szallasi, MD, of Boston Children's Hospital, and colleagues are being funded to study two proteins that may help doctors forecast which patients with BRCA-associated cancers would respond best to PARP inhibitors and which to platinum-based therapy.
- BRCA proteins, which are made from BRCA genes, typically help in the repair of DNA damage that occurs in a cell's life. There are other proteins, such as SIRT2, that regulate how BRCA proteins perform this role in the cell. Principal investigator David Yu, MD, PhD, of Emory University, and colleagues are funded to determine the significance of SIRT2's regulation over BRCA1 protein activity and whether inhibiting SIRT2 might kill cells and tumors with BRCA1/2 dysregulation.
- Principal investigator Katherine Crew, MD, of Columbia University, and colleagues have received a grant to develop a web-based decision aid on BRCA genetic testing for Orthodox Jewish women, many of whom have an increased risk of having a BRCA mutation. Based on preliminary surveys, over three-quarters of this population have not yet considered genetic testing or stated that they will not be tested. The project will result in the development of RealRisks, a decision-making tool designed to overcome cultural barriers to BRCA genetic testing and increase risk-appropriate cancer screening and prevention strategies.
In addition to these innovation grants, The Basser Team Science Award (a two year grant) was awarded last year to a multi-institutional team led by Junjie Chen, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The team is being funded to study new mechanisms of chemotherapy responsiveness in BRCA-related cancers and overcoming therapy resistance arising from these mechanisms. The research aims to develop more effective treatment strategies for patients with BRCA mutations.
The External Grants Program is made possible by a $5 million donation in 2014 by University of Pennsylvania alumni Mindy and Jon Gray. Their total giving to Penn is $30 million, following a $25 million gift that established the Basser Center in 2012. The Center was created in memory of Mindy Gray's sister Faith Basser, who died of BRCA-related ovarian cancer at age 44.
"We continue to be extremely grateful to the Grays for their generosity in supporting these national research programs once again," said Domchek. "Their gift allows Penn Medicine to continue its commitment toward improving treatment options and quality of life for these patients, regardless of where the research originates. This is a progressive approach to research funding that we at the Basser Center are enormously proud to be part of."
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