Getting to know Dr. Benjamin Vincent, MD, at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center: Sidewalks to Science

Dr. Vincent

Dedicating his life to finding a cure for breast cancer, Dr. Benjamin Vincent 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 Medicine, he is working to find the cures for breast cancer through precision medicine and immunotherapy.

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

When I’m not in the lab I…

  • Write short stories. If I wasn’t a researcher, I would be an author.
  • Enjoy outdoor activities with my wife and two young children.
  • Love reading novels by my favorite authors, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jorge Luis Borges, and many others.

Dr. Vincent and his family

What I do… pursue the cures for breast cancer through immunotherapy

My lab focuses on discovering techniques to help the immune system recognize and attack breast cancer cells in ways that help the immune system fight, and then long-term remember how to fight, breast cancer. The challenge for oncologists is that just as each breast cancer patient is a different person, each breast cancer itself is different, presenting different possible targets for the immune system to recognize. In addition, different tumors use different defense techniques for suppressing the immune system. My Komen-funded project focuses on identifying immune targets and mechanisms of tumor resistance so that we can tailor a treatment strategy for each breast cancer patient.

Our goal with this treatment approach is to yield better immune response and more cures than the one-size fits all approach.

Breast cancer is…personal to me and my family

Two of my aunts are survivors and my mother is considered high risk. She has had discussions with her physician about what breast cancer screening tests are best for her due to the high risk and family history.

Working with patients…is inspirational and insightful

I pursued oncology during my medical school oncology rotation because I was inspired by breast cancer patients – women who showed impressive grace and generosity while suffering from metastatic disease. Working with these women was highly motivating for me to pursue breast cancer cures in the research lab.

I am also fortunate to work with patient advocate Dr. Susan Palmer in developing my research plan and communicating the impact of my work. After meeting with her, we see our work as not just about solving intellectual puzzles, but also extending and improving the lives of advanced and metastatic breast cancer patients. We are excited to work with patients and involve them in our research. I hope our relationship will continue to strengthen, and I expect her insights to be vital for designing and communicating future research.

People with breast cancer should…know their bodies well.

Know when to ask for help and support. You are not in this alone and there are likely friends, family members, health care providers, and community support services who would be excited to help if they can. If something is wrong, please don’t be silent, you are your best advocate. Let someone know they can help!

Dr. Vincent with his lab colleagues

Komen is…connecting patients to researchers

We are developing a program to foster interactions between breast cancer researchers and breast cancer patients – something informal where we can all just communicate our work and experiences. My co-workers, colleagues, and I are excited to participate in the Komen Triangle Race for the Cure in Durham each year as well.

Quote

“You are 100% NOT defined by your cancer, no matter what stage you are in your cancer journey. You are your own person and deserve to live as well as you can according to your values and goals!”

 

 

A First-Time Michigan 3-Day Walker Shares Her Dad’s Story

“As a kid and even now an adult, I think I’ve always seen my father as invincible; like nothing could stop him,” said Bridgette, a first-time Michigan 3-Day walker.  “He’s super handy and can fix just about anything around the house (although the joke in the family is that it might lean a little to left when’s done with it).  He’s hard working and always ready to lend a hand.  Even as an adult, he checks in on me as like I am still his little daughter.  I love my dad, and I know he loves me,” she said. That love is just one of the reasons she’ll be taking on the Michigan 3-Day this year; and the other is that Bridgette’s dad is a breast cancer survivor.

“It was a lucky cyst. That’s what the doctors told my dad.” In 2016, he had been having odd chest pain, and felt around his chest to find a lump. A biopsy confirmed it was benign, and that there was no cause for concern. Right before the procedure to drain the cyst, the doctors did one more scan – and this time, there was a new dark spot. A biopsy of this new dark area confirmed that he had breast cancer.

They scheduled a mastectomy of the left breast, but there was no radiation therapy and no chemotherapy. “One complete mastectomy of the left breast later, my dad is a survivor of breast cancer. But without the cyst, they would not have found the breast cancer so early.”

Bridgette had participated in a Komen 5k and donated to friends who were walking the 3-Day, but this year, she’s walking for the first time in Michigan. Bridgette knew men could get breast cancer, but she never knew of one who had. “However, since I’ve been raising funds for the 3-Day, I have learned of another male to have breast cancer (he also survived after a mastectomy).” Male breast cancer, while rare, is a reality. According to Komen.org, “In 2018, it’s estimated that among men in the U.S., there will be 2,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer (includes new cases of primary breast cancer, but not recurrences of original breast cancers).”

An active man, Bridgette’s dad works in the church as a lay leader, and helped to start the church’s food bank. He’s an Assistant Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts, and an Advisor for his chapter of the Order of the Arrow. He loves sports and going to games, and is a Masonic lodge secretary. It’s safe to say Bridgette’s dad is always busy, and that survivorship was in his blood as a previous skin cancer and prostate cancer survivor, too.

But despite her dad’s now clean bill of health, Bridgette wants more justice in the fight against breast cancer. “What I can’t get out of my mind is that society begins to accept that losing a breast is normal,” she said.  “It’s NOT! It’s gone.  But so is part of your body.  My dad won’t go swimming without a shirt now.  He won’t even work around the house without a shirt on.  Breast cancer doesn’t just leave just a physical scar, it leaves an emotional one.  Not only do I hope to raise awareness by walking, I hopes the funds I raise will find a better cure than mastectomy,” she said.

As a working mom, a house fixer-upper, volunteer with the Jaycees and a treasurer of the Michigan JCI Senate, Bridgette also keeps busy, but follows her passion, “to make a difference – in the world or in someone’s life.” Bridgette, we’re pretty sure that just like your Dad, you will.

Help spread awareness of male breast cancer today. While it’s rare, it is real. For more resources on male breast cancer, visit Komen.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

race_3020_photo_49091393

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.

IMG_9202

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.

IMG_1580

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.

IMG_1581

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.

race_3020_photo_49091581

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.

race_3020_photo_49091290

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.

IMG_1578

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.

IMG_6904

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