Gloves Off, Masks On: See You at Sunrise for Making Strides (Oct. 23)
The gloves are off in the fight against breast cancer, but you need to mask up ! For the eighth year, Duke Cancer Institute is teaming up with the American Cancer Society (ACS) as local presenting sponsor for the Triangle Making Strides Against Breast Cancer — an energizing event to educate, honor and celebrate survivors, caregivers and supporters.
Participants are invited to gather at Brier Creek Corporate Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday, Oct. 23, beginning at sunrise. There will be a rolling start, beginning at 7:30 a.m.
Breast surgical oncologists and DCI faculty Jennifer Plichta, MD, MS, and Gayle DiLalla, MD, are once again combining forces to lead a unified Team DCI representing Duke Cancer Institute's Durham and Wake County locations. Breast surgical oncologist Maggie DiNome, MD, who joined DCI just this month, is honorary co-captain.
Plichta, who directs the Breast Risk Assessment Clinic at Duke Cancer Center Durham, sees patients there and at the cancer center's Breast Clinic as well as at the Davis Ambulatory Surgical Center in Durham. Her areas of clinical expertise include benign breast disease, breast atypia, breast cancer risk evaluation, and skin and nipple sparing mastectomy. An associate professor in the Department of Surgery and in the Department of Population Health Sciences, her research interests include breast cancer risk assessment and benign breast disease.
DiLalla, who practices at Duke Women's Cancer Care Raleigh, was recently named chief of Wake County Breast Surgery Clinical Operations. Her areas of clinical expertise include breast cancer lumpectomy, nipple sparing mastectomy, oncoplastic techniques, and breast cancer risk evaluation. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Surgery and also serves on the board of trustees for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
DiNome, who also practices at Duke Women's Cancer Care Raleigh, is medical director of Wake County Breast Cancer Services. A professor in the Department of Surgery, her research interests include studying the role of epigenetic modifications in conferring drug resistance and cancer progression in triple negative breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2021. About 49,290 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) will be diagnosed. An estimated 43,600 women will die from breast cancer this year.
With breast cancer affecting one in 8 women in the U.S. in her lifetime and a small percentage of men (one percent of all breast cancer cases are in men), early detection is their best defense.
Last summer the director of the National Cancer Institute predicted that the number of people who will die from breast or colorectal cancer in the U.S. will increase by nearly 10,000 over the next decade because of delayed screenings, treatments and halted research caused by the pandemic.
There's work to be done.
"Making Strides is a powerful and inspiring event that unites communities to celebrate people who have battled breast cancer, raise awareness about the steps we can take to help prevent the disease and raise money to find cures and support programs and services for those facing the disease," said Tracey Smith, senior development manager with the American Cancer Society. "Bring your cancer fighting spirit!"
In order to make the event as safe as possible, organizers are encouraging all event participants and guests to embrace "a digital first approach" — encouraging on-line signups and fundraising and checking in the morning of the event via your mobile device — and, during the walk, wearing masks, safely socially distancing and sanitizing hands frequently.
"The safety of our supporters, volunteers and staff are top priority and as a result of COVID-19 and associated risks, we will follow all CDC and state COVID safety guidelines. We want to make the event as safe as possible," stressed Smith.
The DCI & ACS Partnership
There's a tradition of collaboration between Duke Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, which includes fundraising and raising awareness about breast cancer. There's also a decades-long history of ACS awarding grants to DCI researchers for their work to better understand the complexities of all types of cancer and to develop treatments that will deliver the best possible outcomes for patients.
Since 1957, Duke cancer researchers have been awarded nearly $50 million by the American Cancer Society.
The American Cancer Society is currently funding 10 grants totaling $4,647,500 (split between Duke University and Duke University Medical Center) with impacts across multiple cancer types, including breast cancer.
This includes a new Supportive Care & Survivorship Center-administered $10,000 grant to help reduce transportation barriers that impact adherence to cancer treatment, six Research Scholar Grants, a Postdoctoral Fellowship and two nursing scholarships.
“Transportation is an all too common barrier to cancer treatment," said Cheyenne Corbett, PhD, director, Cancer Support & Survivorship at DCI. "Our social workers and resource navigators will work directly with patients to assist them in overcoming transportation challenges.”
Meet the Researchers
ACS-Funded Breast Cancer-Specific Research
DCI Investigator: Gayathri Devi, PhD, MS
Project Funded: Overcome Stress Signaling to Prevent Inflammatory Breast Cancer Metastasis (ACS Mission Boost Grant)
Funding Period: 4.1.21 through 3.31.23
Funding Amount: $240,000.00
A large group of DCI investigators led by inflammatory breast cancer researcher Gayathri Devi, PhD, was awarded a three-year $1.6 million U.S. Department of Defense grant in Oct. 2020 for research directed at investigating the mechanisms underlying inflammatory breast cancer metastasis — "Preventing Inflammatory Breast Cancer Metastases by Interrupting Cellular Stress Signaling in Lymphatic Emboli and Circulating Tumor Cell Clusters."
This new ACS grant will help advance that research. Previous research conducted in Devi’s lab (Cell Death Lab) led to the discovery of a cell-death signaling pathway in IBC cells that links the chronic inflammatory stress of the IBC tumor environment to its aggressive behavior. READ MORE ABOUT DR. DEVI'S RESEARCH
DCI Investigator: Dorothy A. Sipkins, MD, PhD
Project Funded: Targeting Dormant Breast Cancer Micro-metastases to Prevent Disease Relapse (ACS Mission Boost Grant)
Funding Period: 1.1.2019 through 1.31.22
Funding Amount: $238,000
In January 2020, Dorothy A. Sipkins, MD, PhD, and co-PI breast oncologist Kelly Marcom, MD (no longer with Duke), launched a proof-of-concept clinical trial of a new drug (GMI-1359) for hormone receptor positive breast cancer patients whose cancer has spread to the bone.
A team in the Sipkins Lab, led by Sipkins and senior research associate Trevor Price, PhD, had previously found that GMI-1359 successfully prevented breast cancer cells from entry into the bone marrow. The drug, discovered and invented by glycobiologist John Magnani, PhD, senior vice president and chief scientific officer at GlycoMimetics, Inc., intersects with decades of preclinical research by Sipkins, first in leukemia and then in breast cancer.
Sipkins said the trial was “the first step toward an eventual therapy that could potentially eliminate breast cancer metastasis to the bone, the most common place of breast cancer spread.”
DCI Investigator: James Alvarez, PhD
Project Funded: Pathways Regulating Dormant Cell Survival and Recurrence (ACS Research Scholar Grant)
Funding Period: 1.1.19 through 12.31.22
Funding Amount: $792,000
James Alvarez, PhD, through the James Alvarez Lab at DCI, is pursuing an exciting new area — "namely, how dormant tumor cells rewire their epigenome in order to survive therapy and eventually recur." Alvarez is studying recurrent breast cancer in mice in order to better understand what makes a cancer cell that’s been dormant — not growing — suddenly reactivate.
Alvarez said this work may lead to new therapies that can kill dormant tumor cells and prevent tumor recurrence. In 2019, he was interviewed about his research project for a web post on the American Cancer Society’s website. On Nov. 3, 2020, he and his lab colleagues reported out findings related to this research in the academic journal Cell Reports. In July 2021, he published further findings — "Context-dependent effects of whole-genome duplication during mammary tumor recurrence" — in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
DCI Investigator: Timothy Trotter, PhD
Mentor: Zachary C. Hartman, PhD
Project Funded: Investigating the Adaptive Immune Response to Dormant Tumor Cells (Postdoctoral Scholarship)
Funding Period: 04.1.20 through 03.31.22
Funding Amount: $163,500
Timothy Trotter was awarded the Elena Baltacha Postdoctoral Fellowship Award — initial funding for postdocs leading to a career in cancer research — by the American Cancer Society in 18 months ago for his project that “aims to determine if dormant tumor cells can be specifically targeted by the adaptive immune system before eventually causing metastatic recurrence.”
“This fellowship is greatly important to both the short- and long-term success of my research," he told Duke Surgery Communications in an interview last year. "It provides three years of funding for this project which allows me to pursue these clinically important questions which could lay the foundation for my career as an independent scientist.”
ACS-Funded Cancer Research (not specifically breast cancer)
DCI Investigator: Scott R. Floyd, MD, PhD
Project Funded: Role of BRD4 in the Cancer Cell Replication Stress Response (ACS Research Scholar Grant)
Funding Period: 07.1.2019 through 06.30.2023
Funding Amount: $789,000
Scott Floyd, MD, PhD, published findings from his ACS-funded research into BRD4 in the September 2020 issue of Cell Reports.
Last year he summarized the nature of this research and initial findings. “A new weapon in the fight against cancer is a class of drugs known as ‘bromodomain inhibitors.’ Although these drugs seem to be effective against several cancer cell types in the lab, including breast cancer, it is not yet clear how well they will work for patients, and if certain types of cancers will respond better than others. This paper from my lab (The Floyd Lab) identifies a new mechanism for how these drugs are effective against cancer cells. This paper also lays the groundwork for new biomarkers that can determine whether a specific cancer will respond. We hope to use the new findings from this paper to test cancers for sensitivity to bromodomain inhibitors.”
DCI Investigator: Donald Fox, PhD
Project Funded: Codon-Dependent Regulation of Ras — A New Frontier in Cancer Biology (ACS Research Scholar Grant)
Funding Period: 7.1.16 to 6.30.22
Funding Amount: $792,000
Donald Fox, PhD, in his research, specializes in extreme genome variation in organ development and repair.
"The genome provides the blueprint for life. To achieve specialized cell or tissue function, specific genome features can be altered or exploited in extreme ways. My research program focuses on two such extreme genome variations: polyploidy and codon usage bias (defined below). In multicellular organisms with specialized organ systems, the function and regulation of these two extreme genome variations remains largely mysterious," says Fox.
His lab, the Fox Lab, is working on "cracking the code." READ MORE in the Dec. 2020 edition of the journal Plos Genetics — "Exploiting codon usage identifies intensity-specific modifiers of Ras/MAPK signaling in vivo."
DCI Investigator: Jason Locasale, PhD
Project Funded: Regulatory Principles of the Warburg Effect (ACS Research Scholar Grant)
Funding Period: 7.1.17 through 12.31.21
Funding Amount: $792,000
This grant advances research by Jason Locasale, PhD, into the Warburg Effect. Read the March 2016 edition of the journal Cell: —"The Warburg Effect: How Does it Benefit Cancer Cells?" — for background.
DCI Investigator: Sarah Kelleher, PhD
Project Funded: An mHealth Symptom Management Intervention for Colorectal Cancer Patients (ACS Research Scholar Grant)
Funding Period: 1.1.21 through 12.31.24
Funding Amount: $791,000
ACS Nursing Scholarships
Heeyeon Son, MSN, is midway through the funding term of an American Cancer Society Doctoral Scholarship in Cancer Nursing Renewal for her project “Family Communication in Pediatric Palliative Care in Korea” under the mentorship of Sharron Docherty, PhD.
Before coming to the U.S. to attend the Duke University School of Nursing, Heeyeon Son, MSN, worked as a pediatric nurse. Her PhD research focuses on how to help children and adolescents deal with their cancer diagnosis and engage in open and clear parent-child communication about their diagnosis.
Funding Period: 9.1.20 through 12.31.21
Funding Amount: $30,000
Alessandra Lopez, BSN, is midway through the funding term of an American Cancer Society Graduate Scholarship in Cancer Nursing Practice under the mentorship of Susan Schneider, PhD, RN, AOCN, ACNS-BC, FAAN.
Currently working on Unit 9300, the medical oncology unit, she is pursuing an MSN at the Duke University School of Nursing — majoring in Family Nurse Practitioner and pursuing an Oncology Specialty certificate.
Funding Period: 7.1.20 through 6.30.22
Funding Amount: $20,000