Congratulations to the Cornelius L. Hopper Award Winners!

THE CORNELIUS L. HOPPER POSTER AWARDS were designed to acknowledge investigators whose presentations excelled in three areas that are highly valued by CBCRP: potential impact on breast cancer, innovation of research, and best presentation for a lay audience.

The poster award winners and honorable mentions were selected by the California Breast Cancer Research Council members whose backgrounds reflected the diverse makeup of the symposium audience. As a consequence, the award winners and investigators who earned honorable mentions shared a very important characteristic. They designed posters that clearly described the reasons for and consequence of their work in terms that were understandable to people who were not experts in the field. Therefore, many of the honorable mentions and all of categories. You can find a complete list of the Cornelius L. Hopper Award winners and honorable mentions and their abstracts on our Web site.

Congratulations to the winners!

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Dr. Sanford Barsky – Most Potential Impact

Diana Chingos

Had the events around 9/11 not caused the postponement of the California Breast Cancer Research Symposium to March 2002, I would have heard it first from UCLA’s Dr. Sanford Barsky. His poster, “A Study of the Molecular and Biological Heterogeneity of LCIS,” won the Cornelius L. Hopper Award for “Most Potential Impact on Breast Cancer”, casting a full spectrum of light on this underexplored area.

It was Dr. Lakhani, a London histopathologist who broke the news to me. “It is not ‘just’ to say it is ‘just’ LCIS,” he orated from the pulpit in San Antonio. So my curiosity was really piqued by the time I saw Dr. Barsky’s poster in Oakland with the specifics fleshed out, literally and genomically.

Dr. Barsky had found the same religion and outlined it in great detail. One type of LCIS, or lobular carcinoma in situ, can be completely harmless, he said. Another type might serve as a risk factor for invasive breast cancer (the accepted dogma) without becoming invasive in itself. A third type might represent a premalignant stage of lobular carcinoma, with the potential for invasion and metastasis. LCIS started to sound a lot more like DCIS.

The subject is under-explored because lobular carcinoma in situ is infrequently seen and over the years has come to serve as a risk factor for any form of breast cancer, not a precursor to lobular cancer of the breast. Its presence in one breast can also increase the chance of bilateral breast disease. Some scientists have noted an increase in lobular cancer, particularly in women on hormone replacement therapy.

It may sound like DCIS, but experts, thus far, have treated LCIS as if it bears a very different relationship to invasive breast cancer. So when I saw Dr. Barsky’s poster at the California Breast Cancer Research Symposium in March, I paid extra special attention.

Dr. Barsky studied one hundred cases of LCIS. He used a combination of laser capture microdissection (a new technique for retrieving LCIS cells from microscopic slides) and the identification of a number of different DNA microsatellite loci for either loss of heterozygosity or increase in copy number. The three distinct groups of LCIS emerging from his study are mentioned above.

Despite the fact that lobular carcinoma in situ and lobular carcinoma are seen infrequently, relative to ductal carcinoma in situ and ductal carcinoma, the impact of Dr. Barsky’s work is extraordinary. It can potentially allow pathologists to predict which form of LCIS a patient has so that the surgeon and oncologist can tailor treatment accordingly.

For example, Dr. Barsky states, “surgical excision would be recommended for LCIS with the potential for invasion; a chemoprevention strategy might be suggested for LCIS that does not show the kind of direct clonal progression to invasive carcinoma; last, it might be preferable to ‘watch’ patients with LCIS that has no genomic alterations” rather than over-treat them.

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Dr. Ling Jong – Most Innovative Research

Judy MacLean

Ling Jong had an idea. She wanted to modify a molecule found in broccoli, to see if she could make its breast-cancer-preventing action more potent.

A Ph.D. chemist at the Menlo Park research institute SRI International, Dr. Jong was assisting other more senior researchers at the time. She couldn’t just try out her idea. She needed a grant to fund the laborious synthesis of compound after compound, each with a slightly different molecular structure, in order to improve the anti-cancer activity while preserving the safe biological profile. She also needed funds for a biologist. The biologist would test the new compounds on breast cancer cells growing in lab cultures, to see which compound best inhibited cancer cell growth.

“It’s impossible for a really junior researcher to get a grant from the National Institutes of Health. You need to be much more established and famous,” says Dr. Jong.

A 1998 New Investigator Award from the CBCRP gave her the opportunity to test her idea. Today, Dr. Jong’s most promising compound is on track to become a drug for both prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

“Most compounds fail to become drugs because they are toxic. I wanted to start with a natural compound, something people have been eating for thousands of years. That way, there’s less chance of toxicity,” she says. Dr. Jong modified Indole-3-carbinol to improve its anti-cancer activity. This substance, found in broccoli, cauliflower, and other related vegetables, is known to prevent breast cancer.

However, eating broccoli won’t work to treat breast cancer, because Indole-3-carbinol is not potent enough. So Dr. Jong searched for chemical variations of Indole-3-carbinol that would work most powerfully at the lowest possible dose. Once she found the compound that was most effective against breast cancer cells in the lab, she tested it on mice. She found that low doses prevented tumors and high doses stopped the growth of tumors, with no toxic side effects.

“We’re especially excited because this compound works both against estrogen-dependent tumors and estrogen-independent tumors,” she says. “Estrogen-independent tumors are harder to treat. Very few other compounds inhibit them.”

The CBCRP gave Dr. Jong a second grant in 2001 to push forward the process of turning this promising compound into a drug. She has applied for a patent on the new compound, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has encouraged her to apply for funds for a Phase I clinical trial, the first step in testing her candidate breast cancer drug in humans.

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Dr. Gertrude Buehring – Best Presentation to a Lay Audience

Diana Chingos

It’s no surprise or simple twist of fate that Dr. Gertrude Case Buehring received the Cornelius L. Hopper Award for “Best Presentation to a Lay Audience” for the second time at this year’s California Breast Cancer Research Symposium. Dr. Buehring is a scientist and professor with more than the usual academic perspective of the disease.

“I went into breast cancer research because my mother died from the disease when I was thirteen years old. If my mother were alive, I think she’d be pleased that I’m pursuing this work.” Dr. Buehring, Associate Professor of Virology at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, asks the question in her award-winning poster, “Does Bovine Leukemia Virus Infection Increase the Risk of Developing Breast Cancer?” Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV) is a cancer-causing virus found in some dairy and beef cattle and which Dr. Buehring has been able to detect in some breast tissue specimens. If the malignant tissues turn out to contain BLV more frequently than the normal specimens, it could suggest a role for the virus as a cause for this disease.

“When I heard this award was going to be given, it reminded me of the importance of making my work understandable to breast cancer survivors. In addition to the scientific aspects of the project, I really like to ask the question, what will this work do for people with the disease or to prevent the disease from ever happening in the first place?”

Dr. Buehring had followed previous work in the 1970s and early 1980s that sought associations between viruses and breast cancer. Scientists have long noted that breast cancer in mice is caused by a virus and set forth to find a similar cause in humans. But the ensuing work failed to identify a compelling link, perhaps because the technology of the time was inadequate. Scientists turned their back on viruses and looked elsewhere, despite the role of a virus in the mouse model. Years later, Dr. Buehring noted that more recent technological advances might permit more productive investigation and moved forward. She has received two grants from the California Breast Cancer Research Program and is now funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program. She awaits publication of the findings of her preliminary research and has continued testing her hypothesis.

“The grant from the California Breast Cancer Research Program was integral to my work. It gave me the opportunity to launch this project.” Dr. Buehring lauds the participation of breast cancer advocates in scientific peer review. “It really brings reality into the study of disease. Survivor participation has improved the quality of research by helping to select projects that are more varied and perhaps more relevant.”

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