University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Breast Cancer Researchers Win Grants Funded by State Income Tax Refunds

Apr 04, 2001, 01:00 ET from University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute

    PITTSBURGH, April 4 /PRNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Department of
 Health's Cancer Control Program has awarded four researchers associated with
 the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) grants to study breast
 cancer through an initiative funded by taxpayers who donated their state
 income tax refunds to the Breast and Cervical Cancer Research Fund.  The UPCI
 researchers received four of the eight grants awarded this year, each totaling
 $35,000.
     The announcement of grant recipients was made by Michele M. Ridge, First
 Lady of the Commonwealth, and Robert S. Zimmerman, Secretary of Health, as
 well as by Pat Halpin-Murphy, president and founder of the Pennsylvania Breast
 Cancer Coalition (PBCC), at a press conference held today at UPCI.
     Grants to UPCI investigators all focus on the role of estrogen in breast
 cancer, including biochemical, genetic and tissue studies that should improve
 the understanding of breast cancer risk and the development of highly specific
 hormone-based therapies against this disease.
     UPCI's grant recipients are Jean J. Latimer, Ph.D., assistant professor of
 obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive sciences, University of Pittsburgh
 School of Medicine and Magee-Womens Research Institute; Kenneth McCarty, Jr.,
 M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and pathology, University of Pittsburgh
 School of Medicine; Francesmary Modugno, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of
 epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health; and
 Mark Nichols, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology, University of
 Pittsburgh School of Medicine.  Dr. Latimer's grant was awarded to Magee-
 Womens Hospital of UPMC Health System.  The other three were awarded to the
 University of Pittsburgh.  All four recipients are members of UPCI.
     Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and
 Penn State University received the state's four other awards.
     "UPCI investigators have received 12 of the 25 grants awarded in the three
 years this program has been in existence.  The grants are very important in
 that they enable these researchers to conduct preliminary studies and obtain
 additional findings that become the basis for obtaining major grant support
 from sources such as the National Institutes of Health.  In effect, each
 dollar donated through the tax check-off initiative is leveraged to far more
 research dedicated to the understanding of and cure for breast or cervical
 cancer," said Ronald B. Herberman, M.D., director of UPCI and associate vice
 chancellor for research, Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh.
     Taxpayers can indicate their desire to donate all or a portion of their
 refunds to one of five causes, including breast and cervical cancer research,
 by "checking off" the line on their state income tax form.  During the 1999
 tax season, $194,788 was raised; more than $700,000 has been raised since the
 check-off program was initiated in 1997.
     The grants are overseen by the Department of Health's Cancer Control
 Program.  Grant applications are reviewed by the Income Tax Check-Off
 Committee of the Pennsylvania Cancer Control, Prevention and Research Advisory
 Board, which is chaired by the PBCC's Ms. Halpin-Murphy, who is also a breast
 cancer survivor.  PBCC was instrumental in getting legislation passed to
 create the check-off program.  The grants are intended to serve as seed money
 for researchers, enabling them to apply for larger grants from major funding
 sources.
     Descriptions of the four UPCI and Magee/UPCI projects are as follows:
     Dr. Latimer's project looks at what effects the anti-breast cancer drugs
 known as selective estrogen response modifiers (SERMs) have on breast cancer
 tissue cultures.  Studies of SERMs in culture models she has developed should
 help reveal how these agents act at the tissue level to enable better
 treatments for cancer or to prevent its development altogether.  A prior tax
 check-off grant awardee, Dr. Latimer has uncovered important information about
 the genetic repair mechanisms that go awry and lead to breast cancer.  In
 addition, she has developed one of the few cell culture systems that mimic the
 structure of the human breast for the study of normal breast tissue, breast
 cancer cells and non-tumor tissue growing next to tumors.  Called
 mammospheres, these clusters of breast cells not only are three-dimensional,
 but their long-term viability allows for growth and differentiation into
 complex branching ducts and lobules that look very much like the milk plumbing
 system of a normal breast.  To aid in her research, Dr. Latimer's laboratory
 has been using unique time-lapse digital imaging that captures eight hours of
 living cell movements and cell-to-cell interactions, such as the formation of
 the epithelial cell architecture.
     Drs. McCarty's and Nichols' projects both focus on trying to understand
 why some women do not respond to SERMs, including tamoxifen.  Through their
 research, they hope to develop more sensitive screenings to identify those
 women not likely to respond and by discovering unique aspects of the molecular
 signaling mechanisms to estrogens and anti-estrogens, their work can enable
 progress to be made to develop more effective treatments and prevention
 strategies.  SERMs are indicated for women who, through certain tests, are
 found to have estrogen receptors in their breast cancer tumors.  In most
 cases, SERMs are highly effective in treating breast cancer.  But such tests
 fail to correlate with response in more than 30 percent of breast cancer
 patients.  Addressing this problem lies in determining whether estrogen
 receptors present in breast cancer cells function normally and therefore
 respond as expected to tamoxifen.  Using a unique assay system, these
 investigators also are studying how the estrogen receptor functions together
 with specific co-factors in the cell that control the response of the cell to
 estrogens.  Already, they have identified specific defects in co-activator
 interactions that should lead to a better understanding of anti-estrogen
 resistance.  Understanding the way that the cells become resistant to the
 treatment will permit the design of improved therapies that will overcome this
 resistance.
     Dr. Modugno's project looks at the role of body mass index (BMI) and
 estrogen metabolism in breast cancer associated with hormone replacement
 therapy (HRT).  Through this research, Dr. Modugno and her colleagues may be
 able to help identify women who would be at an increased risk of breast cancer
 if they used HRT.  HRT is commonly prescribed to alleviate menopausal symptoms
 such as hot flashes.  It has also been shown to reduce the risk of
 osteoporotic fractures and may have some cardiovascular benefits.
 Unfortunately, evidence suggests that HRT may increase the risk of breast
 cancer in post-menopausal women.  HRT contains estrogen, a hormone believed to
 play a role in breast cancer development.  In particular, the body metabolizes
 estrogen to a variety of compounds, and how a woman metabolizes estrogen may
 affect her risk of breast cancer.  Estrogen metabolism is determined by
 individual biologic and genetic factors.  BMI may be one such factor.  By
 identifying factors that alter the risk for breast cancer associated with HRT,
 this research will help women and their physicians make more informed
 decisions about using HRT.
 
     Western Pennsylvania's only National Cancer Institute-designated
 comprehensive cancer center, UPCI serves a population of more than 6 million
 people and is a leader in translational research, the conversion of laboratory
 findings into applications of potential clinical importance.  Physicians at
 UPCI use a wide range of modern technologies and facilities to help each
 patient receive individualized, comprehensive care.  Ongoing studies at the
 institute lay the foundation for future diagnostic methods and treatments that
 often become employed nationally and internationally.
 
     CONTACT:  Lisa Rossi or Maureen McGaffin of UPMC, 412-647-3555, or fax,
 412-624-3184, or e-mail, RossiL@msx.upmc.edu or mcgaffinme@msx.upmc.edu.
 
 

SOURCE University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
    PITTSBURGH, April 4 /PRNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Department of
 Health's Cancer Control Program has awarded four researchers associated with
 the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) grants to study breast
 cancer through an initiative funded by taxpayers who donated their state
 income tax refunds to the Breast and Cervical Cancer Research Fund.  The UPCI
 researchers received four of the eight grants awarded this year, each totaling
 $35,000.
     The announcement of grant recipients was made by Michele M. Ridge, First
 Lady of the Commonwealth, and Robert S. Zimmerman, Secretary of Health, as
 well as by Pat Halpin-Murphy, president and founder of the Pennsylvania Breast
 Cancer Coalition (PBCC), at a press conference held today at UPCI.
     Grants to UPCI investigators all focus on the role of estrogen in breast
 cancer, including biochemical, genetic and tissue studies that should improve
 the understanding of breast cancer risk and the development of highly specific
 hormone-based therapies against this disease.
     UPCI's grant recipients are Jean J. Latimer, Ph.D., assistant professor of
 obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive sciences, University of Pittsburgh
 School of Medicine and Magee-Womens Research Institute; Kenneth McCarty, Jr.,
 M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and pathology, University of Pittsburgh
 School of Medicine; Francesmary Modugno, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of
 epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health; and
 Mark Nichols, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology, University of
 Pittsburgh School of Medicine.  Dr. Latimer's grant was awarded to Magee-
 Womens Hospital of UPMC Health System.  The other three were awarded to the
 University of Pittsburgh.  All four recipients are members of UPCI.
     Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and
 Penn State University received the state's four other awards.
     "UPCI investigators have received 12 of the 25 grants awarded in the three
 years this program has been in existence.  The grants are very important in
 that they enable these researchers to conduct preliminary studies and obtain
 additional findings that become the basis for obtaining major grant support
 from sources such as the National Institutes of Health.  In effect, each
 dollar donated through the tax check-off initiative is leveraged to far more
 research dedicated to the understanding of and cure for breast or cervical
 cancer," said Ronald B. Herberman, M.D., director of UPCI and associate vice
 chancellor for research, Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh.
     Taxpayers can indicate their desire to donate all or a portion of their
 refunds to one of five causes, including breast and cervical cancer research,
 by "checking off" the line on their state income tax form.  During the 1999
 tax season, $194,788 was raised; more than $700,000 has been raised since the
 check-off program was initiated in 1997.
     The grants are overseen by the Department of Health's Cancer Control
 Program.  Grant applications are reviewed by the Income Tax Check-Off
 Committee of the Pennsylvania Cancer Control, Prevention and Research Advisory
 Board, which is chaired by the PBCC's Ms. Halpin-Murphy, who is also a breast
 cancer survivor.  PBCC was instrumental in getting legislation passed to
 create the check-off program.  The grants are intended to serve as seed money
 for researchers, enabling them to apply for larger grants from major funding
 sources.
     Descriptions of the four UPCI and Magee/UPCI projects are as follows:
     Dr. Latimer's project looks at what effects the anti-breast cancer drugs
 known as selective estrogen response modifiers (SERMs) have on breast cancer
 tissue cultures.  Studies of SERMs in culture models she has developed should
 help reveal how these agents act at the tissue level to enable better
 treatments for cancer or to prevent its development altogether.  A prior tax
 check-off grant awardee, Dr. Latimer has uncovered important information about
 the genetic repair mechanisms that go awry and lead to breast cancer.  In
 addition, she has developed one of the few cell culture systems that mimic the
 structure of the human breast for the study of normal breast tissue, breast
 cancer cells and non-tumor tissue growing next to tumors.  Called
 mammospheres, these clusters of breast cells not only are three-dimensional,
 but their long-term viability allows for growth and differentiation into
 complex branching ducts and lobules that look very much like the milk plumbing
 system of a normal breast.  To aid in her research, Dr. Latimer's laboratory
 has been using unique time-lapse digital imaging that captures eight hours of
 living cell movements and cell-to-cell interactions, such as the formation of
 the epithelial cell architecture.
     Drs. McCarty's and Nichols' projects both focus on trying to understand
 why some women do not respond to SERMs, including tamoxifen.  Through their
 research, they hope to develop more sensitive screenings to identify those
 women not likely to respond and by discovering unique aspects of the molecular
 signaling mechanisms to estrogens and anti-estrogens, their work can enable
 progress to be made to develop more effective treatments and prevention
 strategies.  SERMs are indicated for women who, through certain tests, are
 found to have estrogen receptors in their breast cancer tumors.  In most
 cases, SERMs are highly effective in treating breast cancer.  But such tests
 fail to correlate with response in more than 30 percent of breast cancer
 patients.  Addressing this problem lies in determining whether estrogen
 receptors present in breast cancer cells function normally and therefore
 respond as expected to tamoxifen.  Using a unique assay system, these
 investigators also are studying how the estrogen receptor functions together
 with specific co-factors in the cell that control the response of the cell to
 estrogens.  Already, they have identified specific defects in co-activator
 interactions that should lead to a better understanding of anti-estrogen
 resistance.  Understanding the way that the cells become resistant to the
 treatment will permit the design of improved therapies that will overcome this
 resistance.
     Dr. Modugno's project looks at the role of body mass index (BMI) and
 estrogen metabolism in breast cancer associated with hormone replacement
 therapy (HRT).  Through this research, Dr. Modugno and her colleagues may be
 able to help identify women who would be at an increased risk of breast cancer
 if they used HRT.  HRT is commonly prescribed to alleviate menopausal symptoms
 such as hot flashes.  It has also been shown to reduce the risk of
 osteoporotic fractures and may have some cardiovascular benefits.
 Unfortunately, evidence suggests that HRT may increase the risk of breast
 cancer in post-menopausal women.  HRT contains estrogen, a hormone believed to
 play a role in breast cancer development.  In particular, the body metabolizes
 estrogen to a variety of compounds, and how a woman metabolizes estrogen may
 affect her risk of breast cancer.  Estrogen metabolism is determined by
 individual biologic and genetic factors.  BMI may be one such factor.  By
 identifying factors that alter the risk for breast cancer associated with HRT,
 this research will help women and their physicians make more informed
 decisions about using HRT.
 
     Western Pennsylvania's only National Cancer Institute-designated
 comprehensive cancer center, UPCI serves a population of more than 6 million
 people and is a leader in translational research, the conversion of laboratory
 findings into applications of potential clinical importance.  Physicians at
 UPCI use a wide range of modern technologies and facilities to help each
 patient receive individualized, comprehensive care.  Ongoing studies at the
 institute lay the foundation for future diagnostic methods and treatments that
 often become employed nationally and internationally.
 
     CONTACT:  Lisa Rossi or Maureen McGaffin of UPMC, 412-647-3555, or fax,
 412-624-3184, or e-mail, RossiL@msx.upmc.edu or mcgaffinme@msx.upmc.edu.
 
 SOURCE  University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute