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  • Local BigWigs Band Together to Raise Over $40,000 and Educate Hundreds in Inaugural BigWig Campaign

    Post by Komen Coastal Georgia Executive Director Beth Desloges

    Monday, Sept. 15, a billboard went up alongside a busy intersection in Savannah, GA, featuring 10 local community leaders donning bright pink wigs.  The unveiling of this billboard signaled the kickoff to one of Komen Coastal Georgia’s most successful campaigns to date – the Inaugural “BigWig” Campaign.

    The 10 individuals serving at the forefront of this campaign represent some of the most prominent local leaders here in Coastal Georgia.  In partnering with our Affiliate, each BigWig made it their mission to make a lasting impact and start  a dialogue about breast cancer in their community.

    For both our Affiliate and the city leaders involved, being a BigWig within the Coastal Georgia community meant that not only were you a standout leader but you also had a true passion for helping others. For our service area specifically, this meant helping the under-insured women within the community receive much-needed access to breast health care.

    Recently, I spoke to a woman who represents so many women within our community. She reached out to our Affiliate for guidance, as she had recently discovered a lump in her breast which had become increasingly painful.  The woman had discovered the lump a month prior, and acknowledged the need to seek treatment, but unfortunately was unable to do so due to financial struggles.

    I explained to the BigWigs that thanks to the generosity and commitment of our local donors, I was able to get her the help she needed. We were able to navigate her to a local Komen-funded program where she was guided through her screening, diagnosis, and treatment.  The BigWigs understood that this story represented the stories and struggles of many women within Coastal Georgia, embracing it as a reminder of why the campaign was so important.

    We asked each local leader to raise $1,000 each throughout the month of October, in an effort to raise a total of $10,000. Our Board Members recruited BigWigs from a wide range of professions including a doctor, a lawyer, an educator, a government official, etc. Click here to view the full list of BigWigs.

    Early on, the BigWigs listened with open hearts to the Komen Coastal Georgia stories of impact and needs within the community, furthering their knowledge of breast health and prevention through education on Komen’s mission and work within their service area.  They then carried this knowledge to share within the community, with friends, family and soon began sharing their own personal stories of inspiration.

    Each BigWig involved with the campaign had been exposed to or felt the impact of breast cancer in some capacity, whether it be a sister, mother-in-law or beloved neighbor who is a breast cancer survivor, a dear friend that  is currently fighting, or a loved one who lost the battle.  And each time a BigWig was approached by inquiring members of the community as to why they were wearing pink wigs, it provided them with the opportunity to share these experiences and more importantly Komen’s mission and the difference being made right in their own backyard.

    Throughout the month-long campaign, the BigWigs received overwhelming support and were extremely moved by how the community embraced their stories and requests for donations. The energy and passion surrounding the campaign grew tremendously with each passing week, and encouraged the BigWigs to get out and talk to more and more people.

    They took their role as Komen Ambassadors very seriously, and in their excitement, the BigWigs scheduled numerous speaking engagements at local Rotaries and other clubs. Pink wigs were surfacing all over town. And BigWig stories were being heard throughout the community.

    Through the leadership of the BigWigs, the engagement of our Board, and the encouragement of our constituents, the campaign became a social media sensation within our community.  As one local news anchor told me, “I haven’t seen anything create this much energy and passion in a long time.”

    When I reflect back on this campaign and its success, a quote by Margaret Mead resonates most with me and our Komen Coastal Georgia family, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

    This campaign, originally designed to raise $10,000, exceeded all expectations thanks to the passion and hard work of the BigWigs, ultimately raising over $40,000 (and counting) as well as providing the much needed education to hundreds of men and women within our community about the importance of early detection.

     

  • Beverly Laird…Research Advocate Extraordinaire!

    Post by Komen AIS Steering Committee

    On Thanksgiving, we lost one of our best. Poignant because Bev Laird lived her life with love and gratitude. And it is with love and gratitude that we now celebrate the blessings she shared with us.

    Among these was her pioneering, energetic passion for:

    • connecting people with the promise of research,
    • connecting researchers with the insights to be discovered from patients, and
    • nurturing young medical researchers…our hope for a healthier future.

    Beyond serving as an advocate grant reviewer and active advocate for Susan G. Komen’s research program, Bev leaves a legacy rich in pathways for us all to explore in our own work.

    Her efforts in research advocacy began through her relationships with early-career investigators in Komen Scholar Dr. Danny Welch’s lab (then at the University of Alabama at Birmingham).

    Dr. Welch remembered his friend and colleague, saying, “Bev was one of the most energetic, creative, hardworking advocates I have ever known. Bev was one of those people who come into your life and leave an indelible mark. Her indomitable spirit lives on and will continue to motivate.”

    Through her relationship with Komen North Central Alabama, she facilitated Lunch & Learns, uniting researchers with breast cancer patients and survivors, to talk about their research the impact on patients. The Lunch & Learns left attendees with a greater understanding of research and of patients’ needs and hopes, along with a passion for supporting research designed to ultimately improve care for patients.

    Advocated in Science Steering Committee

    Under Bev’s leadership, Komen NC Alabama also sponsored young postdoctoral students and junior faculty so they could participate in a major scientific research forum to meet with leading researchers and learn more about the most promising research underway.

    For four years, Bev and Dr. Welch mentored young people at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting, giving these young innovative minds the opportunity to attend AACR’s Scientist-Survivor Program events where they met other advocates. The relationships they built have facilitated numerous research collaborations across the country.

    Bev regularly participated in graduate/postdoctoral fellowship classes, helping students understand the importance of communicating their research to the “lay audience,” using terms and analogies that people could relate to. In speaking with classes, she shared her journey. She made cancer “real” for the students and postdocs who were preparing to launch careers in breast cancer research.

    Bev also wrote letters of support for postdocs applying for academic positions, and introduced them to local advocates she knew.

    Bev Laird and Promise Grant Recipients

    Bev’s accomplishments and leadership roles spanned the cancer advocacy and research fields.  Within Komen, she was a beloved “sister” and breast cancer “thriver.”  She was extensively involved with her Affiliate, including her role as a founding member, and was active with the Komen Advocates in Science (AIS), serving on our Steering Committee.

    In the coming year, Komen will be launching an advocate mentor program. Although this program is still in development, the purpose of the program is to match newly Komen-funded Postdoctoral Fellows (PDFs) with a Komen research advocate, known as our Advocates in Science.

    The program aims to inspire young researchers to make a greater difference for patients by working with and learning from the real life experiences of those who have or are facing breast cancer. It will also empower advocates to have a greater impact by learning more about research through first-hand experience.

    For her extraordinary, pioneering leadership in working with young researchers and connecting them with our greater Komen community, the AIS Steering Committee dedicates the launch of the advocate mentor program to Bev.  Her legacy will serve as the inspiration and cornerstone of the depth and breadth of the relationships advocates, researchers and affiliates can achieve working together to put an end to cancer’s devastation.

    Thank you, Bev, for forever being our friend, teacher and advocate extraordinaire!

  • Collaborating to Impact and Empower Women across the Globe

    Post by Ana Teasdale, Director, Global Grants & Programs at Susan G. Komen

    In 2005, Susan G. Komen joined forces with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to implement the Women’s Health Empowerment Program (WHEP) in several countries around the world, with the goal to encourage early detection of breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, and the number of cases is increasing in nearly every region and in every country.*Breast cancer is also the leading cause of cancer death in low-resource countries around the world, with over 500,000 deaths worldwide in 2012.* This is why Komen works tirelessly to provide support to breast health programs worldwide. WHEP builds leadership within the local community; creates new services such as support groups and hotlines; strengthens doctor-patient communication; and facilitates partnerships among government agencies, NGOs, and the medical and health community. Last month, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Hungary to represent Komen and participate in the WHEP’s breast cancer awareness activities.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina

    On October 19, 2014, Komen and the JDC organized a breast cancer walk in Sarajevo to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Several hundred prominent citizens, students, volunteers, nongovernmental representatives (NGO) representatives, and other dignitaries from both entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Federation and Republika Srpska) attended the event. The walk aimed to raise awareness of the importance of early detection of breast cancer – the disease with the highest cancer mortality rate in the country, and which is estimated to have claimed the lives of 429 local women in 2012 alone.

    The next day, Komen and the JDC convened local healthcare leaders, government officials, and breast cancer advocates to discuss how to support women throughout the breast cancer continuum of care. WHEP’s Third Regional Conference hosted representatives from throughout former Yugoslavia under the patronage of the Ministry of Health and the participation of Health Ministry representatives and nearly 150 prominent medical experts, advocates, U.S. Embassy representatives and NGO leaders from the region (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia). The Conference aimed to exchange information about diagnoses/treatments in this region, and the progress made in raising breast cancer awareness and mobilizing women to take care of their health.

    The following day, Komen and the JDC organized a roundtable discussion with representatives of the 24 NGOs that comprise the WHEP network in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They convened to exchange lessons learned and share their 2015 action plans. Through this unique network of organizations, 15 peer support groups were created that enabled 2,500 breast cancer survivors to receive psychosocial support, 2,300 women received free mammography screening, and more than 28,000 people received information about breast self-awareness.

    We also sought to bring support to women in the area, hosting a one-day event in in Hajdarovici which provided mammography screening for 80 women, along with other health-related checkups.

    Hungary

    Following such an impactful trip in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I traveled to Hungary for WHEP’s Fifth National Conference in Budapest. The Conference brought together nearly 150 breast cancer survivors, medical professionals, NGO representatives, government representatives, health professionals and advocates from all over Hungary with a special focus on patient groups from the countryside.

    The conference commenced with the Award Ceremony of the 5th Annual Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker Award to Dr. Ákos Sávolt by Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. of the US Embassy M. André Goodfriend.  Dr. Sávolt is the Deputy Head of the first Breast Unit in Hungary at the Department of Breast and Sarcoma Surgery at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Budapest.

    The Award was initiated by the U.S. Embassy in Hungary shortly after Ambassador Brinker was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The Award is intended to provide the selected breast cancer researcher or clinician the financial support to attend the 2014 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) for education and professional networking opportunities as well as to initiate a mentoring relationship between award recipient and Komen senior staff, advisor, or grantee. This Symposium is designed to provide state-of-the-art information on the experimental biology, etiology, prevention, diagnosis, and therapy of breast cancer and premalignant breast disease, to an international audience of academic and private physicians and researchers.

    Attendees also learned about the results of WHEP’s eight years of work in Hungary, as well as the current state of breast cancer, the disease that is estimated to have killed 1,914 Hungarian women in 2012, and has the third highest mortality rate compared to all other cancers among Hungarian women.*

    At Komen, we believe it takes collaboration and strong partnerships to make a global impact. What I have witnessed during this trip exemplifies Komen’s commitment to this collaboration. We are honored to be close partners with the JDC and our in-country partners as we work together to end breast cancer forever.

    *Source: Globocan 2012.

     

  • 2014 Brinker Award: Joan S. Brugge

    Guest post by Joan S. Brugge, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Cell Biology and Louise Foote Pfeiffer Professor of Cell Biology Director of the Ludwig Center at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA.

    I am highly honored to be the recipient of this year’s Brinker Award.  I share this honor with the extremely talented young investigators in my laboratory and my close collaborators within and outside Harvard Medical School.

    The road that I travelled to becoming a cancer biologist and Professor at Harvard Medical School was uncharted.  As an academically inclined young girl growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I was headed down a career path to become a high school teacher. I loved problem solving, and went to Northwestern University as a math major. However, when I was a sophomore in college, my sister developed cancer and I became passionately committed to understanding the causes of this horrible disease that later took her from our family.

    I switched my college major to biology and went to Baylor College of Medicine for my Ph.D. to study cancer-inducting viruses, which offered a way to dissect cancer-causing mechanisms.  Dr. Janet Butel was a superb career model and mentor for me.  She was extremely bright, devoted to her students and a mother of two children. Having gone to an all-girls high school, I never questioned whether women could be leaders.

    As a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Ray Erikson at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, I set out on a project to identify the protein encoded by the Src gene of Rous Sarcoma Virus.  At that time (1975), it was known that a small region of the viral genome was required for tumor formation, but there was no means to identify the protein product of this gene in order to understand its function.  After almost two years of trying many different approaches, we found the protein and this launched a 15 year investigative journey at the State University of New York at Stonybrook and University of Pennsylvania to identify the function of this protein in normal tissues and discover how its alterations could convert it into a potent cancer-inducing agent.

    Our studies, and others in the field, revealed that Src is a key cellular integrator, activated by many cellular receptors to change the behavior of cells. These findings revealed an important aspect of the complexity of targeting cellular genes that drive cancer – that is, blocking the function of these genes in tumors can suppress many processes essential to normal human cells.

    In 1992, I took a break from academics to co-found a biotechnology company (ARIAD) to develop drugs that target genes like Src that control signal processing events involved in cancer and other diseases. This was an enormously exciting and transformative opportunity for me; not only did I learn a great deal from starting such a company from scratch, but I also saw how findings from the laboratory could be translated into therapies for patients. After five years at ARIAD, I was recruited to a Professorship in the Cell Biology Department at Harvard Medical School where I built a new lab focused on cancer research, utilizing advances in three dimensional culture systems to model cancer more effectively. Seven years later, I was asked to add on an administrative job to our lab research in order to serve as Chair of the Department. After 10 years in this position, I recently resigned in order to launch a new Ludwig Center at Harvard to bring together scientists and clinicians to garner new insights and breakthroughs in overcoming cancer therapy resistance.

    On the personal side, I married Bill Brugge, who was a medical student at Baylor, when I was in graduate school and we had a child, Shawn, when I was a postdoc. Part of my success can be attributed to their strong support of my research passion. While it is always challenging to juggle the many responsibilities of a research and teaching career, I learned how to balance these jobs with time for family and recreation (especially tennis and scuba diving!) – the key being to set some limits on the number and diversity of outside activities.

    While directing research is a demanding and stressful job for many reasons, the satisfaction that comes from making new discoveries, mentoring the next generation of scientists and contributing information with the potential to impact human disease is enormous.

    Learn more about our other 2014 Brinker Awardee, Dr. Mitch Dowsett – Komen Brinker Award winner for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research.

  • 2014 Brinker Award: Mitch Dowsett

    Quest post by Mitch Dowsett, Ph.D., F. Med. Sci., Head of the Academic Department of Biochemistry at the Royal Marsden Hospital, Professor of Biochemical Endocrinology, and Head of the Center for Molecular Pathology at the Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer Research in London, England 

    As a teenager, I was fascinated by the genetic code, and I still find it astonishing that the immense complexity of living things is derived through a chemical code based on just four small molecules. Learning about the genetic code in my mid-teens established my interest in pursuing a career in life sciences. As a result of this interest. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology (Imperial College, London), taking as many biochemical and genetic courses as possible, and went on to undertake a Ph.D. in health research.

    I’ve always wanted there to be a direct clinical connection to my research, hoping that it will have an impact on patient care.  As time has gone on I have tried to focus increasingly on issues that are rated by clinicians as having particularly high importance for the management of their patients.

    I began studying breast cancer during my postgraduate fellowship at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), where I studied the very debilitating bone breakdown caused by breast cancer metastases. It was here, nearly 40 years ago, that I started a clinical research collaboration with Professor Trevor Powles and colleagues at the Royal Marsden Hospital.

    In 1979, after three years’ training in clinical biochemistry, I won a Senior Biochemist post to undertake steroid hormone analyses at Chelsea Hospital for Women (CHW). This career-defining piece of good fortune allowed me to begin working with an extraordinary team of medical oncologists: Adrian Harris, Charles Coombes, Trevor Powles (again) and Ian Smith, the last of these being my very close collaborator since that time. Years later, Powles and Smith became the UK’s only other Brinker Award winners.

    We set up steroid assays at CHW to study the activity of a complex drug called aminoglutethimide which was known to be effective in breast cancer  We demonstrated that this effectiveness was because it inhibited aromatase, an enzyme responsible for a key step in synthesizing estrogens, thus validating this enzyme as a therapeutic target. Our CHW steroid assays were critical for the clinical development of the first specific aromatase inhibitor (AI) used in breast cancer, 4-hydroxyandrostenedione, undertaken with my colleagues Charles Coombes and Angela Brodie, and later anastrozole and letrozole, third-generation AIs.

    In 1988, upon moving to the Royal Marsden Hospital, Per Eystein Lonning and I developed an assay to measure whole-body aromatization that became a benchmark for pharmacological comparisons.

    In the 1990s, good fortune featured again when Professor Michael Baum joined the Royal Marsden. Together we initiated the ATAC (Arimidex, Tamoxifen Alone or in Combination) trial that established aromatase inhibition as more effective adjuvant endocrine treatment for postmenopausal women than tamoxifen.

    I have been privileged to lead the AI Overview Group, a global collaboration that has shown that AIs lead to improvements in survival from breast cancer beyond the substantial gains achieved with tamoxifen.

    More recently, in collaboration with Jack Cuzick and many others, we studied tumor samples from ATAC to identify markers that could help identify patients with ER-positive primary breast cancer who could avoid chemotherapy, and in doing so created a simple but effective new index, IHC4, that can help guide decisions about breast cancer treatment.

    It astonished me that the ATAC trial needed to recruit >9,000 women with breast cancer to find if an AI was better than tamoxifen. I was therefore very keen to collaborate with Ian Smith on presurgical studies which validated that early changes in the proliferation marker Ki67 could be used to compare the relative efficacy of endocrine agents, a finding which has allowed for more rapid evaluation of new drugs.

    We also found that Ki67 levels in the tumor during AI treatment might help predict the likelihood of a patient’s breast cancer recurring.  Based on this finding, we created the POETIC (PeriOperative Endocrine Treatment for Individualised Care) trial which enrolled nearly 4,500 patients at over 120 UK hospitals. I believe the trial provides the best opportunity to understand the extraordinarily complex issue of resistance to endocrine treatment and how to select treatments to reverse that resistance, and ultimately could improve the personalized management of ER-positive breast cancer.

    Mine is a story of a patient-focused scientific curiosity, good fortune and great collaborations.  So many others have contributed to my career and my receiving the 2014 Brinker Award for Clinical Research that this blog could easily have been exhausted by simply listing them. I am grateful for the support of many funders over the years, and would also like to thank the countless patients who have trusted and joined with us in helping to reduce the toll from breast cancer.

    Learn more about our other 2014 Brinker Awardee, Dr. Joan Brugge – Komen Brinker Award winner for Scientific Distinction in Basic Science