Sidewalks to Science: Getting to Know Dr. Paula D. Bos, Ph.D. at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine

With lab colleagues at VCU

Dedicating her life to finding a cure for breast cancer, Dr. Paula D. Bos is driven to help Komen meet our Bold Goal of reducing the current number of breast cancer deaths in the U.S. by 50% by 2026. As an Assistant Professor of Pathology, she and members of her lab are dedicated to developing new treatment options for breast cancer patients with metastatic brain tumors.

In this month’s Sidewalks to Science blog, we will get to know Dr. Bos a little better.

When I’m not in the lab I…

  • Enjoy the outdoors with my daughter and husband.
  • Love reading and baking with my daughter.
  • Am an enthusiastic follower of my daughter’s soccer team. As a native Argentinian, I am very passionate about soccer.

Family Picture at the beach

 What I do…targeting immune cells to treat brain metastases.

Although metastatic breast cancer has spread to another part of the body, it’s still considered and treated as breast cancer. Breast cancer that has spread to the brain is treated with breast cancer drugs, rather than treatments for a cancer that began in the brain. However, treatments that work for the primary breast tumor are often ineffective at treating the metastatic brain tumor. Current treatment strategies for brain metastasis, which include surgery and radiation, only offer some improvements for most patients. Therefore, I want to improve the options available to breast cancer patients that have developed brain metastases.

I am investigating how a type of immune cell called a regulatory T (Treg) cell helps breast cancer cells that have spread to the brain grow and survive. Tregs can be found in primary and metastatic breast tumors and correlate with poor patient prognosis. A normal function for Tregs is controlling immune responses, and researchers have shown these cells have the ability to suppress the immune system response against cancer. With my Komen funding, I’m studying how Treg cells support brain metastases. I’m trying to develop a treatment strategy to disrupt the support of breast cancer cells that have metastasized to the brain that could be used in patients.

Breast cancer…touches the lives of so many.

My aunt is a 12-year breast cancer survivor, and other types of cancers have taken dear family members and friends.

Working with patients…motivates my research strategy.

Through my research, I have met and come to admire an incredible group of advocates. Their strength and tireless efforts to bring awareness and increase funding for breast cancer research are a constant incentive to intensify our research efforts.

Dr. Paula Bos

People with breast cancer should…participate in clinical trials!

With new technologies available, science is progressing at a fast pace. We have seen major improvements in the treatment of cancer, especially with the immune system checkpoint blocking antibodies. Breast cancer has yet seen the benefit seen by other cancers, but several approaches are at the clinical trial stage.

Komen is…about patient advocacy!

I have always been motivated to do research to answer pressing clinical needs, but since I started working with patient advocates a few years ago, I now have a better understanding of where the priorities are. Involving advocates allows us to know we are on the right track to discover something of value to the patient community.

“Research is a challenging, expensive, and time-consuming activity. Knowing that patient advocates agree with the goals of our research is reassuring that we are on the right track to discover something of value.”

You can support Dr. Bos and her research by donating directly to her grant here.

If you or a loved one needs information or resources about clinical trials, call our Clinical Trial Information Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877- 465- 6636) or email clinicaltrialinfo@komen.org.

The helpline offers breast cancer clinical trial education and support, such as:

  • Knowing when to consider a trial
  • How to find a trial
  • How to decide which trial is best
  • What to expect during a trial
  • Information about clinical trial resources

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:

From Sidewalks to Science: An On-Route Look at Komen’s Research with Dr. Katherine Hoadley

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Opening Ceremonies

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

When I started my breast cancer research 16 years ago, I did not have a personal connection to the disease. However, over the years, I have come to work closely with patient advocates and the breast cancer survivor community through my volunteer efforts with Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. My interaction with breast cancer survivors has had a positive impact on my research in several ways.  Hearing their stories has been a strong motivational factor for my daily research activities and has helped me improve my ability to share my genomics research with the public.

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On The Route

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

My work is focused on breast cancer classification and better understanding the molecular events that define different subsets of the disease or what we call molecular subtypes.  One subtype called basal-like is an aggressive form of cancer that is enriched with triple negative breast cancers, cancers that are negative for estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor and lack amplification of HER2. Comparing breast cancers with other cancer types from the Cancer Genome Atlas, I found the basal-like subtype was distinct from other breast cancers. This, along with different risk profiles, mutations, and cancer progression suggests they represent a unique subset of breast cancers.  My current research is further classifying this aggressive breast cancer type and analyzing clinical trial data to determine if we can predict response to therapy.

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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?

This grant has allowed me to set up some of my own independent research on breast cancer. I also work closely with other Komen-funded researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill using the Komen-funded Carolina Breast Cancer Study to investigate racial differences in the PAM50 molecular subtyping.

Day 2

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

I am not a clinician and do not feel qualified to give advice to breast cancer patients. However, I think it is important that patients know they can have an important impact on research.  They can help shape the focus of research and guide us to fit the needs of the breast cancer community.

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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 have been volunteering at the Raleigh, North Carolina Komen Race for the Cure for the last 14 years.  I started with day of event volunteering and later increased my involvement by becoming the co-chair of the Survivor’s Committee and have been highly involved in the race planning committee for the last seven years.  I help oversee the Survivors’ Tent, Survivors’ Tribute and Celebration, and the Survivor Awards. I have come to know so many of the female and male breast cancer survivors in my area and have enjoyed seeing them return each year and offer support to survivors who attend their first race. I also attend the Komen North Carolina Triangle to the Coast Research Luncheon and Young Researchers Round Table Breakfasts that bring together researchers in the community.

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Mile 59

The finish line is in sight! In working with patient advocates, how have they impacted your research from a patient perspective?

I have been fortunate to interact with patient advocates through both my own grant work and in participation at grant study sections. They helped me gain a better understanding of the full picture of cancer treatment and effects on the person, their family, and the community.  I have seen the impact advocates have had in making patient-reported outcomes move toward reality and how that has translated into better overall care for the patient.

As a researcher working with genomic and clinical data, data sharing and availability has always been an important issue.  While advancements were made during the microarray era for making data available, we have now moved into sequencing, which brings up additional privacy and safety concerns.  However, most patient advocates and survivors I have talked to want the information about their cancers shared.  By involving patient advocates, we can ensure that we share data in a manner that is protective of patient privacy yet continues to support future research.

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Closing Ceremonies

Thanks for walking us through your research, Dr. Hoadley! Any final thoughts you’d like to share with our walkers, crew and supporters?

Part of my research is analyzing molecular data from a recent clinical trial.  While the analysis is early, we hope we will be able to evaluate and determine predictors of who will respond to chemotherapy so we can help improve future clinical trials and treatment choices.

Dr. Katherine Hoadley is an Assistant Professor in Cancer Genetics at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and has been a Career Catalyst Research grantee since 2016. 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.

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Pit Stop

Three things to know about Dr. Hoadley:

  1. My dad is a scientist and was in graduate school when I was born. He encouraged my love of science by taking me to the lab throughout my childhood.
  2. I grew up in West Virginia; the mountains always will draw me more than an ocean.
  3. I ran track in high school and college and I still hold my high school’s high jump record.

Grab and Go 

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

  1.  Breast cancer is not a singular disease. There are many types that affect people in a wide range of ways. Komen-funded research into all forms of breast cancer can lead to new treatments and informative work towards a cure.
  2. You make a difference! Patients can have an important impact on research, by helping shape its focus, and guiding researchers like Dr. Hoadley find ways to fit the needs of all members of the breast cancer community.
  3. Money raised stays in the local communities. Dr. Hoadley, for example, has been volunteering at Komen events in Raleigh, North Carolina for 14 years. Now, she is also collaborating with other researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill thanks to a Komen grant.

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Sample Tweets:

Take an On-Route Look at @SusanGKomen’s Research in our latest “Sidewalks to Science” chat with Komen-grantee Dr. Katherine Hoadley. She is researching new forms of #breastcancer in search of a cure! (link) #The3Day

Sample Facebook Post:

Take an On-Route Look at @SusanGKomen’s Research in our latest “Sidewalks to Science” chat with Dr. Katherine Hoadley! She, and other researchers and scientific advocates, are making great strides in cancer research, especially in the research of new forms of breast cancer to help find a cure! (link) #The3Day