Breast Cancer Collaboration

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Arizona State University, The Mayo Clinic and T-Gen have joined forces to fight breast cancer. The three organizations have formed the BIG Group (The Breast Cancer Interest Group) to investigate the role of testosterone in developing and treating some of the toughest breast cancers. Dr. Karen Anderson, who is a member of the BIG Group and who has a joint appointment at ASU and Mayo Clinic, will talk about the BIG Group’s efforts.

Ted Simons: Arizona State University, the Mayo Clinic and T-Gen have joined forces to fight breast cancer. The three have formed the breast cancer interest group or BIG group to help research some of the toughest breast cancers to treat. Joining us is Dr. Karen Anderson; she has a joint appointment at ASU and Mayo Clinic. Good to have you here.

Dr. Karen Anderson: Thank you very much.

Ted Simons: Talk about this collaboration. First exactly what is BIG and what about this collaboration?

Dr. Karen Anderson: So a couple of years ago we realized that different centers within the valley had different types of expertise in researching and treating breast cancer. We really felt we needed to come together and collaborate and join forces to target some of the most resistant types of breast cancers.

Ted Simons: Were those the areas of focus, triple negative breast cancer. We have heard about that and endocrine resistant -- what are we talking about here?

Dr. Karen Anderson: Breast cancers are very different. Very heterogeneous. There are many types. Those are two particular types that are resistant to current treatment. We need to be able to develop new treatments and ways of diagnosing and going after those cancers.

Ted Simons: Those are things that basically chemo is all you got?

Dr. Karen Anderson: Yes. Either chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and for both types of cancers there's limited amounts of opportunities really to treat those. So we need to come up with new drugs and combinations to get there.

Ted Simons: We keep hearing about testosterone and testosterone receptors being a key. Talk to bus that.

Dr. Karen Anderson: So some breast cancers express the receptor, the endrogen receptors, present normally in prostate type cancers. There's a whole set of studies looking at can we use some of the drugs we use to trait prostate cancer can we also use those though treat breast cancer. We need to understand which benefit from that, how they work, how to combine them with the therapy we have.

Ted Simons: How do you better understand that?

Dr. Karen Anderson: We're starting to understand how the receptors work, which cancers are expressing those, how we can detect that and looking at trying to combine the therapy.

Ted Simons: As far as genomics on development treatment --

Dr. Karen Anderson: I can't underestimate it enough. Right now what we're doing is both obtaining breast cancer samples from women with breast cancer and asking what is different between these. What is different between how those cancers develop? If you're going to develop therapy you need to understand heterogeneity. You know, TGEN really brings such expertise in how we think about not just mutations but how the genome rearranges and all the parts. So we can look at the genomics and we at ASU also work on protenomics. If you integrate that you can start to understand how those cells will respond to therapy.

Ted Simons: Regenerative medicine… is that what we are talking about here as well?

Dr. Karen Anderson: Well, it is a different off shoot, but if you can get to the primary cells and get them to grow, then we can start to push on them with different drugs and combinations to understand what is actually going to be used for treating women with breast cancer in real time. Can we actually take cancers and try to understand in real time so we can target their therapy specifically.

Ted Simons: It's almost like finding the environment they like and go in there and cause them some harm.

Dr. Karen Anderson: Exactly.

Ted Simons: The collaborative effect, you have ASU, T-Gen, Mayo Clinic Clinic. What were the challenges of getting these big brains together to fight breast cancer?

Dr. Karen Anderson: Well, we have a common mission. That makes it much simpler. The mission is driven by what our patients need. From that there's logistical challenges, obviously. We have three centers, three different institutions. We meet regularly, and we think about projects. We develop projects, grants, we co-publish papers. Right now we're actually starting to develop new clinical trials based on some of this to try to bring these forward for people here.

Ted Simons: How far along is medicine in general in just identifying and treating these aggressive forms of cancers?

Dr. Karen Anderson: I think we're not far along enough yet. There's no question if you ask any woman who has any of these cancers they have to go through chemotherapy, hormone therapy, a lot of surgery, radiation. Still we can't say you're cured. We never get to say that. We have a long way to go. We have made strides, no question survival rates are steadily getting better, but it comes at a cost. It's a lot of therapy. We would like to be able to target these better. For some women we need newer, better drugs for this.

Ted Simons: Take us back five, ten years. What more do we know now than we did then?

Dr. Karen Anderson: I think what we really are appreciating now is like I said that heterogeneity both between patients with cancer, the fact on the outside they may look the same, but internally they are different. Also even within a cancer, they can be different. I think that's something the whole field is starting to appreciate.

Ted Simons: What should we watch for as far as research? What's the next big news or big focus I guess?

Dr. Karen Anderson: Big focus in BIG?

Ted Simons: Yes.

Dr. Karen Anderson: I think that a number of projects one is on androgen receptors and what we can do. I think that will be coming out. We're starting to develop new vaccine and immunotherapy. We have a lot of expertise in the valley on that. Trying to develop new protocols, trials, trying to recruit the immune system to fight breast cancer when chemotherapy and hormone therapy doesn't work. Getting out the genomics, how can we find that earlier? Diagnosis is a big part of that.

Ted Simons: The fact there's a T-Gen, Mayo Clinic, ASU. Talk about the valley's importance in this particular line of medicine and research.

Dr. Karen Anderson: I think that the valley is emerging as a very dynamic, very innovative research endeavor. Absolutely state of the art. As a scientist I find it very exciting to work here. We have the opportunities with these types of collaborations to have an impact in ways that I think is really unique.

Ted Simons: As far as you're concerned, there is optimism, is there not?

Dr. Karen Anderson: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: Everyone knows someone who has had some sort of contact with breast cancer whether it's immediate family or somewhere down the line. Is there optimism?

Dr. Karen Anderson: Absolutely. First of all, the majority of women who get breast cancer will live long and healthy lives and will survive their breast cancer. In part because of the treatments, and in part because of newer treatments coming down the pike. What we use to treat now compared to five years ago, ten years ago, completely different. It changes every single year. I think women and their physicians and the centers have to really keep up with what is the newest, latest medications, the newest treatments we can do and bring that to women in the valley.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Karen Anderson:BIG Group

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