February 3, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 9

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    U.S. Department of Defense funds five breast cancer research projects at Chicago

    By John Easton
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    The U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program has awarded $988,240 to University researchers for five projects designed to improve prevention, detection or treatment of breast cancer. Only 14 percent of the proposals received awards.

    DOD funding was awarded to the following University researchers.

    Darrin Edwards, a postdoctoral fellow in Radiology, received an award for $450,971 for his project, “Investigation of Three-Group Classifiers to Fully Automate Detection and Classification of Breast Lesions in an Intelligent CAD Mammography Workstation.”

    He studies the application of CAD (computer-aided diagnosis) to mammography, in which a computer analyzes a scanned mammogram.

    University researchers already have developed two kinds of CAD schemes. Edwards’ goal is to develop a fully automated detection and classification scheme in which potentially suspicious regions detected by the computer are classified into three groups: malignant lesions, benign lesions and false-positive detections.

    Patrick La Riviere, Assistant Professor in Radiology, received a concept award for $108,131 to conduct his study, “Development of Protease-Activable Imaging Agents for In Vivo Optoacoustic Molecular Tomography of Breast Cancer.”

    Many breast tumors have elevated levels of proteases, protein-cutting molecules that help the tumor invade tissue, spread to distant sites and establish their own blood supply. Accurate imaging of these molecules could improve detection, diagnosis and monitoring of therapy.

    In this study, La Riviere and co-investigator James Norris, Professor in Chemistry and the College, will develop a contrast agent that can be injected into the patient where it will be “cleaved” by specific proteases in the tumor. Then, they will use a low-intensity laser to stimulate the region and measure the acoustic signals that the protease-altered contrast agent gives off in response.

    Talya Salant, an M.D., Ph.D. (History of Culture) student, received a predoctoral traineeship award of $89,997 for her study, “Ethnic and Cultural Dimensions of Risk Assessment and Preventive Decision-Making in a High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic,” which will look at how women understand what it means to be at risk for breast cancer and how they make decisions about genetic testing, as well as prophylactic measures such as intense surveillance, chemoprevention or surgery.

    Kerstin Sinkevicius, a fourth-year graduate student in the cancer biology Ph.D. program, received a predoctoral traineeship award of $98,000 to conduct her study, “Estrogen Receptor Alpha G525L Knock-In Mice.” Estrogen, a hormone produced in the ovaries, is important for normal breast development during puberty and pregnancy, but a high lifetime exposure to estrogen can increase breast cancer risk.

    This study will enhance existing knowledge about signaling mechanisms of ER alpha, which could lead to better prevention therapies and treatments for breast cancer patients, said Sinkevicius.

    Rita Nanda, a fellow in Hematology/Oncology, received a postdoctoral traineeship award of $241,141 to pursue her study, “The Characterization and Treatment of Aggressive Breast Cancer.”

    Nanda’s interest grew out of her clinical experience in treating patients with aggressive breast cancers that occur more frequently in younger women. These tumors are likely to recur and metastasize. Although fewer than 10 percent of all breast cancer cases can be traced to genetic mutations, Nanda studies the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 as a way to understand the disease as a whole.

    In half of high-grade breast cancer cases, these genes are not mutated but are “silenced.” Since these genes repair DNA damage, tumors with silenced genes could be more sensitive to DNA-damaging chemotherapy agents.