October 2016
In This Issue
Research Spotlight: Breast Cancer 

Institute Happenings 

Upcoming Events 
  Recent Blogs 

Dear Friends, 

This month, the Women's Health Research Institute recognizes October as National Breast Cancer Awareness month. In this issue, we highlight cutting-edge breast cancer research that is conducted at Northwestern University. In addition, we provide resources that may be of interest to you and your loved ones about this important women's health topic. 

Nicole C. Woitowich, PhD
Director of Science Outreach and Education 
Research Spotlight: Breast Cancer 
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 12% of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Yet, thanks to biomedical and clinical research, there have been significant advances in breast cancer treatment, with mortality rates decreasing 1.9% each year [1]. However, there is still much more work to be done. The WHRI recently spoke with Seema Khan, MD, Professor of Surgery and Bluhm Family Research Professor in Breast Cancer at Northwestern University about her research and insights into what the future holds in the breast cancer field.  
What facet of breast cancer research do you study?
Dr. Khan: I try to understand breast cancer risk. We know there are many things that put women at risk for breast cancer: Some can be manipulated and others can’t. We try to identify women whose risk can be changed with intervention. One of the places we look for those risk factors is in the breast tissue, itself. In the breast, just like in other parts of our body, there are specific proteins that are made by the breast cells which can cause cells to become cancerous, but that may be correctable by changing the hormonal environment or other aspects [of the breast tissue]. We’ve been trying to identify changes in the breast that tell us which women are at a particularly high risk for breast cancer and to find ways to change the environment so that risk can be reduced. 

What types of risk factors has your laboratory identified?  
Dr. Khan: At the moment, we are looking at a set of genes that are involved in the metabolism of lipids, which are fatty molecules. It looks like there are a group of these molecules that are co-regulated - their expression goes up and down together. They seem to be expressed in higher levels in breast tissue in women who don’t have breast cancer but are at higher risk for it. We still have to do some confirmatory studies, but if this works out, then we will have a way of identifying women at high risk of breast cancer and a way to change the levels of these proteins so their risk profiles is decreased.  

Are mammograms still the golden standard of breast cancer detection? 
Dr. Khan: Mammograms are the test which has the greatest proof behind it. The trials for mammography were very large and, we have lots of follow-up information for them.  Nothing else works quite as well and is as implementable. There is a lot of discussion about the use of ultrasound and MRI [to detect breast cancer. Ultrasounds are harder to implement and give a lot of false positive results. MRIs are really expensive and give false-positive results. So, the burden of going through an ultrasound or MRI, including the actual cost, is much higher, and the benefit is not really proven. 

What would you want women to know about the state of breast cancer research today?  
Dr. Khan: Breast cancer research has been the vanguard of cancer research in many ways for the last 50 years or so. At the moment, cancer research is really on a threshold of a new era. This new era has begun in some ways because of all of the genetic information that we have nowadays. It’s not just your genetic inheritance. That’s one aspect of it, but now we know the genes within the tumor are also important. A tumor acquires a large number of genetic changes as its grows and develops. So, two big fronts, in cancer treatment are genetic changes in the tumor and how these changes can be exploited to treat the tumor. Another aspect is how the tumor manages to go undetected by the immune system. In some ways, a tumor is like a transplant into the body, but it’s a transplant that the body doesn’t recognize and doesn’t reject. Tumors acquire methods of disguising themselves and go “under the radar” of the immune system. People are starting to look at ways to enhance the immune response, so the body can start fighting it. Some of these research advances are being implemented in the clinic and show great promise.  

What do you think the future holds for patients diagnosed with breast cancer? 
Dr. Khan: We have a body of very solid knowledge [about breast cancer], and the only reason we have that is because women have participated in clinical trials. As a result of those contributions by clinical trial participants, we know how to treat breast cancer, and we know a lot about the side effects of treatment. We’ve learned that we not only need to identify the benefits of treatment, but we also need to measure the side effects of treatment. Now, the new generation of clinical trials are not just adding new treatments but being designed to take some treatments away – and, that’s a very positive trend. This custom-tailored therapy is happening not only to kill the cancer but to do it with the least harm to the woman. 
Arm yourself with knowledge in the fight against breast cancer. Check out the following resources to learn more about the signs and symptoms of breast caner: 

For clinical resources, please contact the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

1. National Cancer Institute 

Author: Nicole C. Woitowich, PhD, Director of Science Outreach and Education, Women's Health Research Institute  
Institute Happenings 
Join us in welcoming Megan Connolly!

Recently, Megan joined the Women's Health Research Institute as a Project Coordinator. She  earned her B.A. degree from Argosy University in Business Administration with a concentration in Healthcare Management. As a two-time  cancer  survivor,  she is a strong advocate for transformative and innovative clinical research and women's health. In her current role, she coordinates research studies conducted by the WHRI and acts as a liaison between its clinical partners.   

Please contact Megan at [email protected] if you are interested in collaborating with the WHRI or to learn more about our research studies. 
Upcoming Events 
Tuesday, October 18th: Women's Health Research Monthly Forum 
"Behavioral Treatments for Women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome" 
Dr. Sarah Kinsinger 
12:00PM - 1:00PM
Prentice Women's Hospital, 250 E. Superior Street, 3rd Floor Conference Room L South
    This continuing nursing education activity has been approved for 1.0 contact hour by the Ohio Nurses Association (OBN-001-91), an accredited approver of continuing nursing education by the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation.  Approval valid through 2/3/2018 - ONA Approval #18769, ONA-CE Assigned Approval Number.

Funding Announcement 
The Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative (ChicagoCHEC)

The Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative (ChicagoCHEC) aims to create the cross-institutional infrastructure and cohesive network necessary to catalyze the complementary strengths of the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), Northwestern University (NU), and community organizations toward improving cancer health equity in and around Chicago. ChicagoCHEC is committed to funding collaborative projects that aim to advance cancer health equity while providing cancer research, education, and community engagement opportunities for minority and underrepresented students, fellows, scientists, and community members. 

Click here for more information!
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