Voices of Impact – Dr. Edith A. Perez
Edith A. Perez, M.D. received the Susan G. Komen Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research for her impactful contributions to the field of breast cancer treatment, which have helped to shape the standard of care for breast cancer patients globally. Dr. Perez has devoted her career to improving breast cancer patient care and expanding the understanding of breast cancer biology. She has led a wide range of translational clinical trials testing new therapeutic agents for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer – trials that have had a lasting impact on women facing a breast cancer diagnosis. The award was presented on December 11 at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
“Over the last few years, we’ve been concentrating more and more on what we call next-generation gene sequencing, which not only identifies different gene expressions (how information contained in genes is turned into genetic products such as proteins) in tumors, but also interrogates gene interactions that may impact tumor behavior.”
“As our research progresses, in addition to defining predictive models to better recommend prevention and therapy, we will identify new treatments that will optimize quality of life and survival for people around the world.”
Early in my life, I wanted to be part of something that was innovative, unique and great, but I didn’t know exactly what that would be. When I started college at age 16, I was going to study mathematics. By the second year in college I migrated from math to medicine, as I became enamored with science and the idea of helping people in a more tangible way than solving mathematical puzzles.
I love being a scientist and a translational investigator. I was extremely fortunate to discover that being a physician, and then a physician investigator, was my professional call in life. I wanted to be part of a field where there was a need for someone to be a thinker — a positive thinker — about the possibilities, someone who would want to be involved in studying and helping to advance science as well as patients.
I identified that there was a huge global problem with breast cancer — the development of the disease as well as its management — that affected the lives of millions of people. I saw that we needed to look at the problem of breast cancer in a methodic and, at the same time, a very personal way, and contribute as part of a team to innovative ways to tackle the problem.
My trajectory from college to medicine was accelerated by focus, great teamwork, and support from my institution (Mayo Clinic), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and many others. Our approach to the breast cancer problem includes research to identify new drugs and new predictive markers of efficacy to optimize benefits for patients. I have been very fortunate to establish relationships while developing and leading translational clinical trials that eventually helped change the scope of how we manage patients globally. These positive developments led to thinking, “OK, in addition to finding drugs or agents that target specific abnormalities of cancers, what can we do to understand the targets that can be affected by therapies? How can we evaluate protein and gene expression so we can optimize new treatment strategies?”
We’ve taken advantage of many technologies over the years, and we’ve helped with the definition of standards for appropriate protein and gene testing in the setting of breast cancer, specifically HER2 testing. Over the last few years, we’ve been concentrating more and more on what we call next-generation gene sequencing, which not only identifies different gene expressions in tumors, but also interrogates gene interactions that may impact tumor behavior. As our research progresses, in addition to defining predictive models to better recommend prevention and therapy, we will identify new treatments that will optimize quality of life and survival for people around the world.
I am involved in many global clinical trials to identify new agents for treatment. I am also a very big believer in the importance of clinical research in the United States, and that is why being the vice chair of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology suits me extremely well. We have hundreds of investigators throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world in the Alliance. I am also quite honored to work with the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the NCI on various committees and projects, some of which focus on mentoring junior investigators and students, which is essential to the future of breast cancer research. It’s so encouraging to see how Susan G. Komen demonstrates their commitment to the next generation of science through rigorous training grant programs such as their Post-Baccalaureate Training and Career Catalyst Grants.
I love what I do. It’s humbling and energizing. Every day we are helping prevent breast cancer and aiding others to be cured. We are going to expand our ability to help more and more people if we continue our research, as well as our educational initiatives, at a global level.
Learn about our other 2013 Brinker Awardee, Dr. Gordon Mills – Komen Brinker Award winner for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science
Check out video interview with Dr. Edith Perez.
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.