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The Hutchinson Center appreciates the partnership and generosity of those who supported the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.
Turning breakthrough ideas into lifesaving therapies for cancer requires creativity, innovation and hard work. It also requires a special kind of supporter who recognizes that today’s research will become tomorrow’s cures. By supporting the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer, you enable Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to rapidly fund the next breakthrough that will save lives.
This year, Climb to Fight Breast Cancer celebrates an incredible 15 years of helping Fred Hutch researchers find new ways to prevent, detect and treat breast cancer, helping countless patients in the process. We proudly report to you on three recent breakthroughs in breast cancer research.
Traditionally, cancer researchers might study one or two proteins at a time — a daunting task considering humans have tens of thousands of different proteins. This is one tradition that Fred Hutch researchers are leaving behind. Dr. Christopher Kemp and colleagues have applied a new approach to examine hundreds of proteins simultaneously. This breakthrough lets them study the roles of proteins in all aspects of breast cancer: from how tumors grow to how surrounding tissue responds.
The team discovered a “treasure trove” of proteins involved in breast cancer, including a subset that change even before a tumor is otherwise detected. Because these proteins are found in the blood, they are potentially powerful early indicators, or biomarkers, of cancer that may be used to detect breast cancer earlier than any current test. And just like forecasting a mountain’s weather, predicting the presence and type of tumor is daunting. The more biomarkers we find, the more accurate the test will become.
The next step involves selecting the most promising proteins and developing them into new early detection tests for breast cancer. Such early detection tools could dramatically improve outcomes for women facing a diagnosis.
A climber observes and responds to his or her environment at all times. As it turns out, so do tumors. A recent discovery has found that a tumor’s response to its environment may explain why some cancers resist chemotherapies and how we might fix them.
Sadly, developing resistance to chemotherapy is a nearly universal, ultimately lethal consequence for cancer patients with solid tumors — such as those of the breast — that have metastasized, or spread, throughout the body. A team led by Dr. Peter Nelson has discovered a key factor that drives this drug resistance. By examining breast and other cancers, they found that the healthy tissue surrounding tumors can respond to the damages of chemotherapy by releasing growth signals, a normally helpful response that allows tissue to heal. Unfortunately, tumors can also respond to these growth signals by further invading the neighboring tissue. Their discovery reveals that blocking this unexpected response may improve the lifesaving power of existing therapies for breast cancer.
Fred Hutch’s pioneering work aims to develop new cancer therapies with fewer side effects. Even some of today’s best treatments tend to kill healthy cells alongside tumor cells, triggering severe side effects that limit the amount of chemotherapy a patient can be given, and ultimately, the therapy’s usefulness. One of these newer, safer approaches uses hormone-blocking drugs instead of chemotherapy, which can cause harsh side effects. Because the body’s hormones can unhelpfully tell tumors to grow, blocking them can slow or halt many cancers; about three quarters of women with metastasized breast cancers have tumors that respond to hormones.
Working within a team of researchers across the country, Dr. Julie Gralow has found that buddying up two hormone-blocking drugs dramatically slows down breast cancer that has metastasized to other organs. Together, the two treatments — one blocks the production of the hormone and the other blocks the ability of the cancer to respond to it — gave patients a significantly longer survival time, the first instance such improvements have been seen with these therapies. This breakthrough may not only have an immediate impact on patient-doctor decisions, but it also suggests that we now have a new strategy in using hormone blocking therapies — often called endocrine therapies — which may have a huge capacity to help those fighting breast cancer.
We thank you again for your support of Fred Hutch’s mission to eliminate cancer. This past year, the Climb to Fight Breast Cancer raised over $640,000 for our breakthrough research. Support like yours ensures that we leave no stone unturned in the search for new treatments and cures for breast cancer.
Anyone can climb! Seize the opportunity in 2013: www.fredhutch.org/climb