The Noreen Fraser Foundation's first translational research grant was given to Dr. Olufunmilayo F. (Funmi) Olopade
, M.B., FACP, Professor, Department of Medicine and Director for the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at the University of Chicago Cancer Research Center. NFF's grant will allow Dr. Olopade to launch a first of its kind genome-wide study to find genes that may be responsible for an aggressive form of breast cancer known as estrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer. ER negative breast cancer is highly aggressive, resistant to treatment and presents with a poor prognosis and yet it is a breast cancer subtype that has been understudied. Notably, ER negative breast cancer disproportionately affects women under the age of 40 and women of African and African American ancestry.
While risk factors of and therapy for ER positive breast cancer have been clearly identified, little is understood about ER negative breast cancer, including its genetic and environmental risk factors, appropriate screening methods, and effective treatments. For reasons that remain unknown, women with BRCA1
mutations who develop breast cancer are more likely to be diagnosed with the ER negative subtype. However, there may be other genes and environmental factors (e.g., diet, physical activity, hormone replacement therapy, exposure to toxins) that interact to promote ER negative breast cancer development in young women, especially those with a strong family history of the disease. Dr. Olopade and her team are looking to fill in these knowledge gaps by taking a whole-genome approach to studying the development of early-onset ER negative breast cancer.
Using tissue and blood samples from the Breast Cancer Family Registry and the University of Chicago, Dr. Olopade and her team will use the latest genomic technologies to perform whole genome scans that can be shared with the larger cancer research community to identify and validate susceptibility genes in early onset ER negative breast cancer and investigate gene-gene interactions. The study also aims to identify novel associations between genetic mutations, other than those of BRCA1/2
, that modify the risk of estrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer. Ultimately, it is Dr. Olopade's hope that this research contributes to a larger effort to reduce cancer mortality and improve clinical outcomes for all women with breast cancer, especially those who are from high-risk families and were diagnosed at a young age.
Enhanced screening and targeted therapies developed over the past several decades have improved the outlook for many cancer patients, yet breast cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death for women under the age of 40. While great progress has been made regarding the biology and successful treatment of estrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancer, very little is known about ER negative breast cancer. We need bold, new approaches to determine the genetic and environmental risk factors, appropriate screening, and effective treatments necessary to make a greater impact on this increasingly common subset of breast cancer.
As a physician and scientist, Dr. Olopade studies young women from high-risk families and is currently working with scientists all over the world to understand why breast cancer runs in families and what we can do to prevent breast cancer by empowering women to take charge of their health. Her team of researchers was the first to discover inherited mutations of the BRCA1
genes in African American families.
As the Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago, Dr. Olopade epitomizes the "bench to bedside" philosophy in her application of scientific discoveries to clinical medicine and has seamlessly parlayed her findings into clinical applications. As a Hematologist/Oncologist, Dr. Olopade specializes in cancer risk assessment, prevention, early detection, and treatment of aggressive breast cancer that disproportionately affects young women. A member of many professional societies including the Association of American Physicians, Dr. Olopade has national and international recognition as a physician-scientist. A speaker in much demand, she effectively disseminates the benefits of her work, inspires students and colleagues, and is a role model for women scientists worldwide.
Dr. Olopade is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including the James S. McDonnell Foundation Scholar award, the Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist award, and a 2005 MacArthur Fellowship "genius" grant.