DETROIT — Researchers at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute will focus on creating better therapies to treat triple negative breast cancer thanks to a $3.5 million grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease, is often resistant to standard breast cancer treatments and has a particularly high incidence rate among African-Americans. About 26 percent of African-American women with breast cancer are triple-negative, compared with 15 percent of Caucasian women.

“Women affected by this disease often do not receive benefit from currently approved therapies,” said Patricia LoRusso, D.O., director of the Karmanos Phase 1 Clinical Trials program and professor of Hematology and Oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine. “We are convinced that learning more about the role of cancer stem cells will allow us to define better treatments for patients who have this type of aggressive breast cancer.”

Cancer stem cells are thought to fuel a tumor’s growth and spread.

She added that she and her team will “develop clinical trial designs using combinations of investigational drugs to design better therapies by uncovering the genetic profile of tumors and stem cells involved in the disease.”

According to LoRusso, this research is part of a collaboration with three institutions each leading an important aspect of the investigation. The clinical trials will be led by Karmanos Cancer Institute; the genetic profiling by the Grand Rapids-based Van Andel Research Institute and the Translational Genomics Research Institute; and the cancer stem cell analysis by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Jeffrey Trent, president and research director at Van Andel and TGen, and Max S. Wicha, M.D., distinguished professor of oncology and director of the UM Comprehensive Cancer Center, will serve along with Dr. LoRusso as principal investigators of the grant.

Funding this investigation is a $3.5 million Promise Grant from Komen. Promise Grants are multi-million dollar, multi-year, collaborative grants aimed at answering difficult questions in breast cancer and translating their findings into outcomes that will impact patient care.

“This Komen grant will give us an outstanding opportunity to challenge the existing paradigm and move the science of cancer stem cells from the lab into the clinic to better understand their role,” LoRusso said.

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