31 Days of Impact – Day 31, Lisa Carey
The story of breast cancer is the story of people. Learn about Komen’s impact and work in the fight against breast cancer as told through the eyes of breast cancer survivors, researchers, community health workers and advocates. Read more stories.
LISA A. CAREY, MD, CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA – Physician and Researcher
The Richardson and Marilyn Jacobs Preyer Distinguished Professor in Breast Cancer Research; Chief, Division of Hematology and Oncology; Physician-in-Chief North Carolina Cancer Hospital; Medical Director of the UNC Breast Center; Associate Director for Clinical Research; UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
“Funding from Susan G. Komen has yielded an incredible wealth of information that helps us, the clinicians, understand breast cancer behavior better and, we hope, improve our ability to tailor treatments appropriately.”
“As a researcher and doctor, I am thrilled that our work looking for ways to identify and study different subtypes of breast cancer is already benefiting our patients. Our next challenges are to identify tumor characteristics that predict response to therapy and develop novel treatment approaches for the subtypes we have identified.”
My focus – as a researcher and doctor – is to improve the lives of breast cancer patients. My work with colleagues has led to the understanding that women do just as well if their chemotherapy is given before surgery as after. It’s scientific advances like these that inspire me – we will be able to use molecular science to improve the lives of mothers, grandmothers, fathers, and other loved ones.
When I was an undergraduate at Wellesley College, my honors thesis project was to develop a mask that would allow workers in freezing temperatures to save water from their exhalations. My friends would avoid me on Sundays, when I had access to the dormitory walk-in freezer, because they were my guinea pigs. After college, my training included a medical degree, then Internal Medicine Residency followed by a Medical Oncology fellowship, all at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
I earned an advanced degree in Clinical Investigations at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in 1998 and then joined the UNC faculty rising from assistant to full professor. During my training, I continued my research efforts, first in limb injuries, then in infectious diseases like AIDS. I decided to become an oncologist during my second year of residency when I spent Christmas week on the inpatient Oncology ward – a truly inspiring experience and one that confirmed for me that I wanted to take care of cancer patients.
Since joining the faculty at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, I have spent a lot of time with scientists spending all of their time trying to understand the variations within breast cancer – why do some behave more aggressively than others, why do some relapse and others not? The most useful work I do is trying to extend their findings – understanding and characterizing the molecular subtypes of breast cancer to the clinic so that we may develop better prevention and treatment strategies. I was fortunate enough to lead the first trial looking at a new drug regimen in the breast cancer subtype, triple negative breast cancer.
But ever since I’ve joined this field, I’ve understood that this kind of research doesn’t fund itself. Organizations like Susan G. Komen carefully examine the work that various researchers are doing that will eventually save lives and impact women around the world.
For example, in part based upon work performed at UNC, we now know that women do just as well if their chemotherapy is given before surgery as after, however the chemotherapy-first approach means that they are more likely to save their breast. In addition, with preoperative therapy it is possible to tell if the drugs are working since the tumor is still measurable when the chemotherapy is given first. Part of my clinical research program uses this preoperative approach in order to investigate new drugs and combinations of drugs as well as factors that might predict response to these drugs.
And just this year, Komen awarded me a grant of nearly $1 million to profile the kinome (a group of hundreds of proteins that regulate cancer cell growth) in HER2+ breast cancer, specifically to look at how the cancer cells try to evade HER2-targeted therapy.
I hope that future grants will enable researchers like me to design and lead clinical trials testing novel ways to better treat breast cancer. Only with the kind of funding that Komen provides will we be able to use molecular science to improve the lives of our patients.
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About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.