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.

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

Day 1 of the Susan G. Komen 3day walk in Novi, Michigan on August 4, 2017.

Opening Ceremonies

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

Although I do not have a family history of breast cancer, cancer has greatly affected my family. I work closely with many patient advocates in breast cancer research, and have seen far too many succumb to breast cancer. As our population ages, I believe that cancer will surpass heart disease as the leading killer. Since breast cancer is the most common deadly cancer in women, I am extremely motivated to make a difference toward eliminating this disease that affects so many.

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On the Route

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

So far, our most important findings are centered on understanding how metastatic (or Stage IV) tumors arise, and the role the cells around the tumor play in regulating that process. We discovered that the RON kinase protein regulates metastasis and makes it easier for metastatic tumors to grow. We’ve shown that RON kinase inhibitors can block this process and reduce metastasis. We are now launching a new clinical trial to test a RON kinase inhibitor in breast cancer patients with bone metastasis, and we hope this study will help to determine the potential effectiveness of this drug in preventing and treating breast cancer metastasis.

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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?

I was very lucky to be the recipient of a Komen postdoctoral fellowship when I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, which launched my independent career. The findings from that work led to my current faculty position, which I started 10 years ago. As a young principal investigator, I received a Komen Career Catalyst Award and, more recently, the Komen Leadership Award as a Komen Scholar. Several of my postdocs have received Komen fellowships as well and continued their careers in breast cancer. Without Komen funding, it’s hard to imagine what my lab would be doing now!

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Day 2

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

Keep the hope. Our understanding of this complicated disease has grown immensely and has led to new approaches, like immunotherapy, that might work even on very complex tumors for which we do not have current therapeutic approaches. Also, get involved! Involvement of patient advocates really does change the landscape of research in ways that can impact everything from research project funding to how clinical trials are conducted.

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Cheering Station

Look at all of these enthusiastic supporters out along the route! How has working with patient advocates impacted your research from a patient perspective?

I have had patient advocates ask questions that have really challenged the “why” to what we planned to investigate. There are many research questions that are very scientifically interesting and important, but would not change patient care in the foreseeable future. Also, spending time in the clinic has made me realize the limitations of what can be done, and I’ve learned to prioritize our research efforts toward directions that can be practically executed in the clinic. Now, our lab is balanced between finding new discoveries that could eventually make a difference, and those that could make a difference now.

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Mile 59

The finish line is in sight! Can you tell us about a defining moment for you when you realized the impact our work has in the fight against breast cancer?

We are about to open a Phase Ib clinical trial, which is based on our work in bone metastasis, which all started when I was a Komen postdoctoral fellow. It has taken 15 years of research in this new area, but we are excited to see the results, and what they could mean for women living with bone metastases. This would be a huge step in treating metastatic breast cancer, and making a significant impact in the lives of patients.

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Closing Ceremonies

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

My lab has been funded by Komen for many years, including several fellowships for my postdocs and we have published Komen-funded research in journals. None of these advancements would be possible without the support of Komen fundraisers, like the 3-Day participants.

Dr. Alana Welm is an Associate Professor at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute and has been a Komen Scholar since 2016. Since 1982, Susan G. Komen has funded more than $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

Two things to know about Dr. Welm:

  1. To clear my head, I like to trail run or go fly fishing. Both of these activities force me to stop thinking about the lab for a while and push the “reset” button.
  2. My husband, Bryan Welm, also runs a breast cancer research lab. We have two children (ages 13 and 11), and live in Park City, Utah. They are well versed in breast cancer from conversations at our dinner table!

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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:

  1. Breast cancer is the most common deadly cancer in women, so every step is a crucial one in the fight for a cure.
  2. Many research labs, postdoc fellowships and clinical trials are done thanks to Komen-funded research. None of the advancements that resulted from this work would be possible without the support of Susan G. Komen fundraisers, like the 3-Day.
  3. Since 1982, Susan G. Komen has funded $920 million in breast cancer research, second only to the U.S. government and more than any other nonprofit in the world. Your dollars are being put to real use!

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