Georgia's Online Cancer Information Center

Breast cancer research expert (virtual) panel informative and eye-opening

9/01/2020, Georgia CORE

On Aug. 26 via Zoom, Georgia CORE and It's The Journey assembled a first-time gathering of breast cancer researcher experts funded by both organizations. Representing diverse backgrounds in engineering, biology, medical oncology, and pharmacy, the panelists explored the current state of their respective breast cancer research and its impact on treatment for more than 40 attendees who were able to ask questions of the researchers. 

Moderated by Georgia CORE's Nancy Paris, the panelists were (pictured from left to rigth) Ritu Aneja, PhD, Professor and Director of Graduate Program, Biology, Georgia State University; Cheryl Gomillion, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Chemical Materials and Biomedical Engineering, University of Georgia; Adam Marcus, PhD, Professor, Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Associate Director for Basic Research and Shared Resources, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; Mandi Murph, PhD,  Associate Professor Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences, University of Georgia. Stephanie Tucker of It’s The Journey opened and closed the program.

Dr. Marcus discussed the research he is undertaking that focuses on how breast cancer metastasizes and spreads. He shared how funding from Georgia CORE and It’s The Journey has allowed his team to develop a technology to pull out rare cancer cells and evaluate how they work. 

“One way to continue to develop effective treatments is to understand the cells’ behavior,” he said. “This new technology allows us, for the first time, to monitor if cancer cells are spreading and then look directly at the makeup of the spreading cells to understand what’s driving this spread. We hope to use that information to eventually impact the patient’s treatment.”

Dr. Gomillion shared that she got in to this line of research because her mother is a breast cancer survivor. Undergoing treatment when Dr. Gomillion was in middle school, her mother’s experience prompted her to later become interested in tissue engineering, specifically asking the question, can we incorporate tumor cells into tissue models to evaluate how these cells would behave and potentially respond to treatments?
“My lab focuses on building these tissue models so that we can research the effects of their properties – physical and chemical – and combine these attributes into model systems.”

Global collaboration has been pivotal in Dr. Aneja’s study of triple negative breast cancer research. She even created a platform for it: International Consortium for Advancing Research on Triple Negative Breast Cancer or ICART ( Working with fellow researchers from 15 institutions and six countries, she focuses on racial disparities, particularly why patients of African descent have much more aggressive breast cancer tumors than Caucasian women. 

“In fact, we have elevated the subject matter from triple-negative to quadruple-negative breast cancer,” she explained. “African patients are 90 percent or more quadruple negative. It is so critical to continue to study why these tumors are so much more aggressive in people of color.”

Dr. Murph gave an overview of her research that focuses on nanoparticle delivery: how can we use drugs to target triple negative breast cancer? “Thankfully, funding provided by your organizations allowed us to secure a drug patent that is pending,” she said.

Each panelist lamented the initial closing of labs due to COVID-19 and because cancer research was not originally considered essential. They shared their collective hope, however, in the fact that patients have so many different options because so many clinical, academic and research backgrounds are coming in to play to elevate breast cancer research and treatment in Georgia. They know their work is essential and continue on.

“There is so much hope and excitement in the field,” concluded Nancy.

Streamed live and recorded, the program panel is posted and can be viewed by clicking here.

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