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Cancer: The Hunt for a Cure

Our Chief Medical Editor checks in with Stand Up to Cancer's dream team researchers.

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Q: Dr. Slamon, your project focuses on breast cancer "molecular subtypes," which refers to the relatively new knowledge that most cancers are not just one disease. Instead, they can be one of many different subtypes or varieties. What is the significance of your research?

Dr. Slamon: We know there are probably at least seven major molecular subtypes of breast cancer -- plus subgroups within those subtypes. Up to now, we've been taking a one-size-fits-all approach to treating a diverse disease. The result is that we have limited ourselves in our ability to effectively treat it. 

So our team was put together knowing that we've made some inroads by applying the right cancer therapy to the right group with a particular type of cancer subtype. Now we want to take it much further and try to understand how molecular alterations in each subtype respond to which therapy so we can really refine and improve treatments for patients.

Q: It seems that some of your teams' work is similar. Is there a chance for collaboration?

Dr. Cantley: Yes. Some of the teams actually had overlap in terms of who they invited to work with them. These people had to go with one team or the other, but as we go forward, they will help the teams communicate with one another.

Dr. Jones: It's important to remember, too, that this can all feed into the idea of "combination therapies," where you target multiple steps in the processes that can lead to cancer, instead of just aiming at one step with one drug.

Dr. Slamon: The whole objective is to move good ideas being developed in the laboratory into the clinic, where they can be evaluated more rapidly. This is a very exciting model for research, and if it works I suspect it'll be something that's done more and more.

Meet Our Stand Up to Cancer Researchers

Lewis C. Cantley, PhD
Team: Targeting the PI3K Pathway in Women's Cancers
Grant: $15 million
Goal: To determine which patients will respond positively to treatments that target mutations in a set of genes that regulate a certain cellular "pathway" in the body. Breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers all have this pathway.

Peter Jones, PhD
Team: Bringing Epigenetic Therapy to the Forefront of Cancer Management
Grant: $9.12 million
Goal: To study epigenomes, layers of material outside of DNA in cells that can lead to cancer by turning genes on and off -- and ultimately to discover medicines to combat these molecular changes. The team will focus on breast, colon, and lung cancers, as well as leukemia.

Dennis J. Slamon, MD
Team: Integrated Approach to Targeting Breast Cancer Molecular Subtypes
Grant: $16.5 million
Goal: To better understand breast cancer's molecular diversity (since not all breast cancers are the same) and to develop treatments tailored to specific "subtypes" of the disease.

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Reviewed on October 01, 2009

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