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WBCS, Inc., to fund three breast cancer researchers

June 5, 2014

Three researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and BloodCenter of Wisconsin’s Blood Research Institute have each received a two-year, $100,000 grant from WBCS, Inc., to study breast cancer risks and potential new therapies.

The recipients of the grants are Weiguo Cui, Ph.D., associate investigator at BloodCenter of Wisconsin’s Blood Research Institute; Howard J. Jacob, Ph.D., Warren P. Knowles Professor of Genetics and director of the Human and Molecular Genetics Center at MCW; and Vera Tarakanova, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at MCW.

Dr. Cui’s project seeks to develop an innovative approach to breast cancer immunotherapy. When breast cancer has metastasized, or spread, throughout the body, it is often difficult to treat. Immunotherapy has been successful in treating other metastatic cancers, but breast cancer does not respond as well. Dr. Cui’s team will work on an approach that will overcome immunosuppression when targeting breast cancer antigens, and recruit anti-tumor cells directly to the tumor. This novel project is expected to provide new insights into therapeutic designs for a wide range of cancers.

Dr. Jacob’s project seeks to map the genetic risks of breast cancer that exist around the tumor. Breast cancer is highly heritable, but most of the genetic risks that have been identified are directly associated with the tumor cell itself. In this project, Dr. Jacob will genetically map breast cancer risk in the local environment of the tumor, also known as the “tumor microenvironment.” This project will allow researchers to better understand the role and contribution of specific mutations association with breast cancer tumor cell growth and disease progression.

Dr. Tarakanova’s research interest is in the association between viruses and cancer. One current treatment of certain cancers is histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, which have been found to inhibit development and metastasis of breast cancer and some other cancers and are currently in clinical trials. However, long-term use of HDAC inhibitors was recently linked to the development of secondary, virus-driven cancers in breast cancer and prostate cancer patients. In this study, Dr. Tarakanova proposes to discover the link between HDAC inhibitors and those virus-driven cancers. The results will lead to increased safety and effectiveness of HDAC inhibitors, which are a promising new therapy for breast cancer treatment.

“Support from volunteer organizations such as WBCS, Inc., is incredibly important for research. The original ideas generated in these pilot studies will advance our understanding of breast cancer and could ultimately lead to new therapies to treat this disease,” said Ming You, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the MCW Cancer Center.

WBCS is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that raises money for breast cancer and prostate cancer research at the MCW Cancer Center. Since 1998, WBCS has contributed $5.1 million to those efforts. That funding facilitated an additional $37.6 million in extramural support to MCW breast cancer researchers by enabling them to gather data to apply for larger grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The organization’s Showhouse for a Cure features a private home redecorated by local interior designers that is open to the public to tour, May 31 – June 15. Other annual fundraisers include a preview party for the showhouse, a run/walk, a golf outing, a survivors’ fashion show and luncheon, and a winter gala.

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