From Sidewalks to Science: An On-Route Look at Komen’s Research with Dr. Maria Soledad Sosa

Opening Ceremonies

Dr. Sosa, can you tell us a bit about what led you to do breast cancer research?

My mom was diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer 18 years ago. Two years ago, her cancer returned and she needed a second round of treatment. Fortunately, she is doing well. My personal experience with this disease greatly impacted my decision to work in this field, and inspires me every day as I work to make an impact in breast cancer research.

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On the Route

Since we’ve got some time, could you tell us a bit about your current research?

Metastasis (or the spread of breast cancer to other organs) is what kills people with breast cancer. My research is aimed to avoid metastasis before it even begins by targeting the “seeds” of those metastases. These seeds are named DCC (disseminated cancer cells) and are “asleep” in the body, and can be found in important organs like the liver and bones even before a primary tumor is detected. But something causes them to wake up and become aggressive. I believe if we can figure out how these DCCs behave and spread, we might find strategies to eliminate them before they reactivate and form metastases.

At Camp

Now that we’ve made it “home” for the night and are enjoying the support of our crew, can you tell us about how your work would be affected without Komen funding?

Komen funding is imperative to my research. With Komen’s support, I can look for ways to keep these dangerous DCCs “asleep” so they can’t grow and become metastatic tumors. It also allows us to find ways to eliminate DCCs while sleeping. My hope is that this work could someday lead to a cure for metastatic breast cancer.

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Day 2

What would you say to somebody who’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

My advice to people would be to have hope and be diligent about your own care. People with no sign of breast cancer should continue to follow-up with their doctor, follow the doctor’s recommendations, and continue to get screened every six to 12 months after treatment has stopped. It was a follow-up screening that helped my mom detect her breast cancer recurrence early. Typically, after a person is treated for breast cancer they are considered to have no sign of breast cancer. However, some people may have DCCs in vital organs that are “asleep.” They could stay like that for years — even decades in the case of ER+ BRCA patients — so it’s important to understand that risk and be proactive about screening. Early detection and follow-up could save the life of a person with no evidence of disease.

Cheering Station

Look at all of these enthusiastic supporters out along the route! Tell us about how you are involved with Komen outside of the lab.

I’m excited to be one of four Komen-funded grantees selected for the Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) Research Grant crowdfunding opportunity, where anyone can donate funds to support a research project or researcher of their choice. You can learn more about my story on the Komen Facebook page and donate directly to my Komen-funded MBC research project here!

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Closing Ceremonies

Thanks for walking with us, Dr. Sosa. One final question, in working with patient advocates, how have they impacted your research by bringing the patient perspective?

Sandra Spivey is the patient advocate for my grant, and was so helpful in developing the Letter of Intent and grant proposal. She is very supportive, giving me feedback on how to highlight the patient perspective. I was amazed by her energy and passion. Even when she got sick, she kept working and sending me comments for this grant. I really appreciate all her help, and I am sure she will have a positive impact on my research.

Dr. Maria Sosa is an Assistant Professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and you can donate to her research project directly through Komen’s crowd funding web page. Since 1982, Susan G. Komen has funded $956 million in breast cancer research, second only to the U.S. government and more than any other nonprofit in the world. Learn more here.

Pit Stop

Three things to know about Dr. Sosa:

  1. I like dancing. And as an Argentinean woman, I dance tango!
  2. In my free time, I love to paint
  3. My family enjoys being outside and being active — doing things like hiking, kayaking, and swimming.

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Grab and Go

Here are three ways you can use this information to help reach your 3-Day fundraising or recruiting goals:

Sample Tweet:

Having seen the effects of breast cancer in her own family, Dr. Maria Soledad Sosa is now conducting research aimed to avoid breast cancer metastasis before it even begins! Learn more about her research here:

Sample Facebook Post:

Having seen the effects of breast cancer in her own family, Dr. Maria Soledad Sosa is now conducting research aimed to avoid breast cancer metastasis before it even begins! Komen funding has been imperative to her research, and she hopes to one day find the cure for metastatic breast cancer! Learn more about her work here:

Insight Into Komen’s 2017 Research Grants

This year, Komen announced $30.7 million in research funding for 98 research grants which will mostly focus on discovering new treatments and improving our understanding of the most lethal forms of breast cancer – helping us move closer to achieving our Bold Goal.

For the first time, Komen will be giving members of the public an opportunity to directly fund specific research by participating in a crowdfunding initiative on Komen’s website.

We wanted to share with you the grant process and how the 2017 portfolio breaks down this year since 75% of net proceeds from your fundraising support this research and we could not accomplish any of this work without you.

Peer-Review

Komen has a renowned peer-review process – lead by Komen’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) – that ensures the organization is funding the best and most imperative forms of research. Advocates and breast cancer patients also take part in peer-review, to ensure all aspects of breast cancer needs are being covered. You can learn more about peer-review here.

The 2017 research grants came through the request for applications (RFA) issued last year, prior to the Bold Goal announcement in September of 2016. Still, 41.3% of Komen’s grants are focusing on metastatic breast cancer research and 54.4% of grants are focusing on new treatments.

The 2018 process for new proposals began in April and all applications submitted were asked to directly support Komen’s efforts towards the Bold Goal. Researchers were invited to submit projects that addressed metastasis or resistance to current therapies.

This Year

In 2017, Komen research funding went to institutions in 27 states and across 8 countries. The majority of grants are focusing on new screening technologies, metastatic and aggressive types of breast cancer and understanding and addressing disparities in breast cancer. By targeting metastatic disease – which is responsible for almost all of the nation’s 40,000 annual breast cancer deaths – Komen is hoping to reduce breast cancer deaths in the U.S. dramatically. To date, Komen has funded more than $180 million in metastatic breast cancer research. 2017 funding also includes $17.6 million to early-career investigators which helps to ensure a continuum of breast cancer research across generations.

Komen’s 2017 portfolio includes*:

  • 37 grants expanding our knowledge of metastatic breast cancer and how to better treat it or prevent it;
  • 42 grants looking into triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype of breast cancer; 59 grants focused on new therapies;
  • 24 investigating drug resistance (why drugs stop working in some patients);
  • 9 on disparities in breast cancer outcomes;
  • As well as projects investigating inflammatory breast cancer, early detection, prevention, Big Data and more.

Crowdfunding

This fall, Komen is making it possible for supporters to make a personal impact on breast cancer research. During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Komen will highlight four metastatic breast cancer researchers and encourage donations to their specific grants. More information on the crowdfunding initiative will be announced in October.

Thank You!

When you walk and raise money you are making a direct contribution to our grants. Funds that you raise through 3-Day could  support a young scientist for a day working toward finding the cures, or could support an oncologist for a day as they run clinical trials to find the cures for breast cancer. We could not fund potentially lifesaving research without your help and support. Thank you for the impact that you make here at Komen and always being More Than Pink.

You can learn more about Komen’s 2017 funding here.

A Survivor’s Story: Tracey Aho

This October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re sharing stories of survivors. Read our most recent post from Sherri O’Berry here, and today, we’re honored to share Tracey Aho’s story.

Like many others before her, Tracey’s breast cancer journey started when someone close to her—her mother—was diagnosed. It was after her mom’s second breast cancer diagnosis, Tracey recalls, that she took action for her own health. “Based on my family history as well as previous scares on personal mammogram results, I decided to see a specialist as a preventative measure. After a few visits and a few tests, we decided that I would have an MRI. It was then that the tumor was spotted and a biopsy was ordered. I was told that the results would take a day or two and knowing my doctor, I knew she would call me as soon as she had the results.”

Years prior to this frightening turn of events, Tracey became part of the Komen 3-Day. “I had heard about the 3-Day over the years but was watching TV one night in 2014 and saw a commercial. This was shortly after my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer and I sat there thinking, “I should do that. I’m not doing anything for Jennifer (my cousin) just sitting here”. I thought about it for a few minutes and then decided to register. Almost immediately after I did, I thought, ‘What in the world did I just do?’” What she did was step up to the challenge of the 3-Day and crush it. She raised over $2500 for the 2014 Michigan 3-Day, then came back and did it again in 2015.tracey-aho-1

Flash back ahead to the spring of 2016, and Tracey was in a meeting when her phone rang with the call that would change her life. “My boss knew I was waiting for this call and of course immediately excused me from the meeting. My doctor asked me if I wanted to go home first and then call her back but based on her question alone, I knew I was going to want the results right then. She confirmed that I did indeed have breast cancer.

“My immediate reaction was not shock; I had prepared myself for the worst but prayed for the best so I was mentally ready to hear the diagnosis. Of course there were tears and nervousness but my next two thoughts were ‘How am I going to tell my son, husband and the rest of the family’ and ‘What’s the plan?’

“I received my diagnosis on March 17, 2016 and my husband and I were in the doctor’s office the very next day discussing treatments. I had a couple of options which included a lumpectomy but due to other health issues that I have, we decided on a bilateral mastectomy followed by reconstruction surgery.

“Follow-up treatment was still unknown at that time but eventually, my doctor ruled out radiation and my oncologist wanted to run an oncotype test to determine the aggressiveness of the tumor before he could advise if chemotherapy was necessary. My results came back in the low intermediate stage so we decided that I would not need chemo.”

Tracey had walked in the 3-Day two times before her diagnosis, but 2016’s Michigan 3-Day was special for her: “This year was a little different for me because it was my first as a survivor. I kept thinking, ‘I’m very blessed. I could be getting chemo treatments or worse right now but I’m here.’”tracey-aho-2

We’re glad you’re here, Tracey, and thanks to you and all the people in our 3-Day community, we’re working hard on ending breast cancer forever.