Hutch News Stories

Stars in the quest for early detection

Lee Hartwell leads research funded by entertainment industry to pinpoint biomarkers for breast cancer
 Marion Laurie, Jamie Tisch, Kelly Meyer, Quinn Ezralow and Anne Douglass (center), with honorary chairs Rita Wilson and Kate Capshaw (flanking Douglass).
Women's Cancer Research Fund founders (from lower left to back row) Marion Laurie, Jamie Tisch, Kelly Meyer, Quinn Ezralow and Anne Douglass (center), with honorary chairs Rita Wilson and Kate Capshaw (flanking Douglass). Photo by Jonathan Skow

Fueled by a three-year, $9 million award from the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) and its Women's Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), a consortium of scientists from seven leading biomedical-research institutions has begun a quest to pinpoint breast-cancer biomarkers. These are unique proteins in the blood that may signal the presence of cancer at its earliest stages.

The consortium — under the scientific leadership of Drs. Lee Hartwell, Center president and director; Eric Lander, of the Human Genome Project; and Gabriel N. Hortobagyi, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology — unites internationally recognized scientists from the Hutchinson Center, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, University of Southern California/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital, the Institute for Systems Biology, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

"We're assembling some of the best scientists and the best minds in the world. If we are successful in this collaboration, we could not only improve outcomes for breast-cancer patients, but also for those who suffer from many other diseases," Hartwell said.

Known as the EIF/WCRF Breast Cancer Biomarker Discovery Project, the effort brings together researchers in the fields of proteomics, informatics and clinical breast-cancer care to share research methodologies, critical data, and tissue and blood samples from human subjects to speed the discovery of biomarkers that may lead to a blood test for early detection of breast cancer.

Center researchers Drs. Sam Hanash, Martin McIntosh, Amanda Paulovich, Nicole Urban and Natalie Scholler will provide expertise in whole-protein analysis, bioinformatics, proteomics-technology assessment, marker discovery and antibody technology, respectively.

The EIF, the philanthropic arm of the entertainment industry, hopes that by funding the consortium it will reduce the terrible toll exacted by one of the most common and dreaded cancers in women. "We all know the prognosis is best for patients diagnosed in the earliest stages of cancer," said Rita Wilson, EIF's WCRF honorary co-chair. "However, because many cases aren't caught early, most of the efforts to date have focused on improving and extending the lives of patients with advanced disease."

"By creating this consortium, EIF aims to fast-track the development of blood tests for screening purposes, which in turn could help dramatically improve cancer-survival rates," said Kate Capshaw, EIF's WCRF honorary co-chair.

EIF/WCRF Breast Cancer Biomarker Discovery Project will work to isolate the proteins that herald early stage breast cancer when detected in blood serum. The resulting knowledge could change the emphasis of cancer care away from treatment of advanced disease and toward prevention of full-blown cancer in persons known to be susceptible or just starting to develop the disease.

Early detection may be the single most important factor in preventing deaths from breast cancer. The five-year survival rate for breast-cancer patients whose cancer has metastasized (spread) is only 22 percent, in contrast with 85 percent to 95 percent in patients with early stage disease.

EIF/WCRF Breast Cancer Biomarker Discovery Project is a component of the Center's Early Detection and Intervention Initiative, which is focused on the discovery of biomarkers and the development of new technologies to identify these proteins in body fluids.

The WCRF is an EIF program that supports innovative research, education and outreach directed to the development of more effective approaches to the early diagnosis, treatment and prevention of all women's cancers. Honorary chairs Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg, along with founders Kelly Chapman Meyer, Quinn Ezralow, Marion Laurie and Jamie Tisch, established the WCRF.

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