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Building the Team
In the past 15 years, the team has grown from only six investigators to more than 39 today. Recruitment of top research faculty strengthens the work of the team, and funding is essential to ensure their work leads to discoveries for future therapies that provide the best care possible to patients.
Conducting Critical Clinical Trials
Clinical trials test experimental therapies in controlled settings. Vera Bradley Foundation funds pay for the infrastructure and expertise to make them possible. Trials spearheaded by our team are pointing to the development of new drugs as well as different uses for current drugs, targeting aggressive forms of the disease and improving the quality of life for survivors.
Sharing Novel Tools
Researchers have created a new master database of tumor tissues that is being utilized by investigators around the world to inform their own research. Usually, researchers must comb through multiple databases to mine data for their studies, which can be time-consuming and costly. This catch-all tool helps to significantly reduce time and cost thus accelerating research not only in our labs, but in labs worldwide.
Members of the team receive much of the seed funding for their research from the support the Foundation provides. These critical donations allow them to act on original ideas and generate important data to prove their viability. Much of this work has led to publications, additional grant funding and guideposts for future therapies. One million dollars in seed funding from the Vera Bradley Foundation generates $10 million in scientific research funding.
For some women, traces of cancer are found at the tumor site and in the lymph nodes at the time of surgery. Results of a new drug, PARP inhibitor, are promising when used in post-surgical treatment. The drug seems to block a repair mechanism in the cancer cell’s DNA to kill lingering cancer cells and prevent subsequent tumors from growing. A national Phase III trial is anticipated to begin this year.
Telomerase is an enzyme that stops the protective “tips” of chromosomes, telomeres, from turning on the natural cell-death process. Researchers have developed a way to inhibit the enzyme and lab work is now focused on targeting and eliminating the elusive breast cancer stem cell. The inhibitor is also being paired with the cancer drug Herceptin in metatastic HER+ tumors. Early studies show that when Herceptin alone can no longer keep tumors at bay, adding the inhibitor resensitizes the cancer cells to the drug, enabling it to work.
Tumor Tissue Microarray
The research team has created a database of breast cancer tumor samples that holds clues to which breast cancers are cured and which will recur. Currently, the database contains tissue from 237 patients along with their medical records 10 years out from diagnosis. Researchers are now looking for biomarkers that indicate if breast cancer will recur. The team’s goal is to expand the database to 500 samples by year’s end.
Anti-angiogenic agents prevent the formation of blood cells that help tumors grow and spread. Recently, the research team activated two new national and international trials, for newly diagnosed patients prior to surgery, looking at two anti-angiogenic agents in the metastic setting. Both trials are heavily focused on identifying which patients are most likely to benefit from each therapy.
The team has joined the Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium, a group consisting of the leading academic breast cancer programs in the United States, in a trial treating patients with HER2+ before surgery with combined biologic therapies without chemotherapy. The goal is to help identify women who can avoid chemotherapy and its potentially harsh side effects. IU is the second leading site to enroll patients in this trial.
First to human HER2-therapy
In a separate HER2+-related trial, the team led the Phase I trial combining two novel anti-HER2 therapies (TDMI and pertuzumab), both of which have been approved by the FDA for use within the last year—this is the first HER2-therapy trial to be conducted in humans.