Decade-old cancer research grant paying dividends

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – The American Cancer Society is investing $74 million n breast cancer research. A grant awarded 10 years to Washington University Medical School has resulted in exciting discoveries.

The fight against an invasive breast cancer has strong local ties. From lab work to clinical trials, local research creates a strategy for effective diagnosis and treatment.

In recent years, American Cancer Society-funded research has produced potentially lifesaving breast cancer drugs. Ten years ago, Dr. Jason Weber of Washington University Medical School, was awarded a grant that began his research into what makes the most aggressive tumors aggressive.

“We’re now understanding what they’re doing to make them behave aggressively,” Weber said. “And we now know how we might potentially target those in the clinic.”

Weber’s research focused on several genes that show up repetitively in women with invasive breast cancer.

“The cells themselves looked like they had been infected with a virus,” Weber said. “And it really was just the markings of an infection. So these cells had ramped up their inflammatory pathways.”

Dr. Weber and his team have determined that two genetic mutations are the cause. He said when the two combine, it tricks the tumor cell into thinking it is infected. Medical compounds used in treating inflammatory disease could prove beneficial in breast cancer research.

“We know what it does in the lab. It’s very good,” Weber said. “We simply don’t know what it will do clinically yet. So that’s the idea behind starting up the first trial.”

Clinical trials could start in the next six to seven months, according to Dr. Weber. But first, they must determine who's a good candidate for the trial.

“These are the proteins from her tumor and we’re going to look for the pathway of her tumor that we’re most interested in,” he said.

Weber and his team are excited that a small investment is producing major results.

“In the grand scheme of things you can understand or have an appreciation for a small grant in the tens of thousands having millions of dollars of impact decades later,” he said.

If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer and you'd like to volunteer for a clinical trial, tell your doctor or call the Clinical Trials Matching Service at 800-303-5691. Also to ensure that more basic innovative cancer research continues, donate to Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.