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NCI Awards $12 Million for Multi-Institution Breast Cancer Genetics Study


A large study headed by researchers from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC), Vanderbilt University, and Boston University received $12 million in funding to examine why African American women die at a higher rate from breast cancer and have more aggressive breast tumors than white women.

The grant, awarded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), is based on the premise that having a better understanding of the biology—and, in particular, the genetics—of breast cancer in African American women will lead to better prevention and targeted treatment.

Chris Haiman, ScD

Chris Haiman, ScD

Chris Haiman, ScD, Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, organized the African American Breast Cancer Consortium, which developed the network of scientists and body of research that will support this new study.

“We now have the knowledge and technology available to assess the whole genome, providing a more comprehensive look into the genetics of breast cancer in women of African ancestry,” he said.

Dr. Haiman will be leading the study alongside Wei Zheng, MD, PhD, of Vanderbilt University, and Julie Palmer, ScD, of Boston University. Investigators will pool data, biospecimens, and expertise from 18 previous studies of breast cancer among women of African ancestry to determine whether genetic variants may be associated with increased risk.

Study Objectives

Specifically, they will examine the association between genetic variants and the risk of estrogen receptor–negative breast cancer and estrogen receptor–positive breast cancer, how genetic variants affect major breast cancer biologic pathways, and whether the effects may differ between African American women and white women. Additionally, experts from 5 other institutions will gather information and biospecimens from 20,000 breast cancer cases.

Douglas Lowy, MD

Douglas Lowy, MD

The reasons for differences in breast cancer biology and disparities in incidence and mortality rates between white and African American women are not well understood, and existing studies have not been large enough to provide sufficient statistical power to elucidate factors associated with how breast cancers develop. The size and power of this new study could help address the current lack of scientific understanding.

“Health disparities are a problem of great concern for the NCI and one that we are zeroing in on, as evidenced by this grant,” said Douglas Lowy, MD, Acting Director of the NCI. ■



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