Robert Clarke's Weblog


Jul 06 2012

Guest Blogger: “That Was the Week That Was”

Robert Clarke, PhD, DSc

This week we had record-setting high temperatures and a “derecho” that left us with downed trees, blocked roads, and  no power, air conditioning, Internet, or TV at home (and as of six days later still showing no signs of power restoration).

Meanwhile, here at GUMC, we are contending with migration to Google Mail and Google Calendar (not entirely trouble-free but better than another derecho or earthquake), ongoing GMS struggles, and a deadline for a draft of the Breast Cancer Program write-up that passed uncomfortably into the rear view mirror (it’s coming Carolyn – honest!).

With respect to the last matter, Claudine Isaacs and I finally got a very rough draft together and, in the process, we were reminded of the very impressive quality and breadth of the capabilities of our program members.  While preparing a report like this can seem like something of a chore at the time, delving into the finer details of the members’ work in a different context (i.e., different from the excitement and engagement in the oral presentations at our BC Program meetings), offers the opportunity to see the research across the entire program with fresh eyes and to appreciate its potential from a different perspective.

For those of you not so familiar with our program, we have three primary research themes. The first defines the relatively broad area of drug resistance in breast cancer, although we have an historic (and continued) focus on endocrine resistance. With Craig Jordan’s DoD Center of Excellence, the U54-funded CCSB program (Center for Cancer Systems Biology), and work in several other laboratories (for example, Anna Riegel’s innovative work on AIB1 and Bob Glazer’s work on SCA1), there are many interesting and diverse approaches ongoing in this area. Sandy Swain has also led some major NSABP studies (B28 and B38) that relate to this theme, albeit with a greater focus on cytotoxic chemotherapies. I don’t how she has time for all this research, since she’s also director of the Washington Cancer Institute and the current ASCO president!

The second theme is directed more at understanding some of the factors that affect breast cancer development and progression, with a focus on familial breast cancers and BRCA1 and BRCA2. Eliot Rosen has done some very nice work here and he is now developing BRCA1 mimetic drugs. Insoo Bae has shown a role for BRCA1 in protecting cells from reactive oxygen species. Claudine is very active in this theme, and is collaborating with folks in the Cancer Prevention and Control program.

Our third research theme with some very interesting and exciting work looks at the effects of nutritional and environmental factors on breast cancer. Mary Beth Martin continues to find intriguing ways for cells to get their estrogen receptors activated that include calcium, some heavy metals, and some anions like nitrite. Leena Hilakivi-Clarke has some new data showing the importance of epigenetic regulation in maintaining the effects of early life exposure on mammary tumor susceptibility across subsequent generations. Priscilla Furth’s work to develop important new mouse models to explore the role of ER and aromatase expression in the mammary gland is also breaking new ground.

While I can’t mention everyone (and apologies to those I did not – will do better next time), I hope this has given you some insight into the work that is ongoing in the Breast Cancer Program. Good luck with your own work and especially with those grant applications!

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