Drink for Pink was founded largely around the idea of transparency. It’s a value we hold close to our hearts. Right now, the lack of transparency in nonprofits means it’s hard to understand just where you’re money is going when you make a donation.
From the start, we’ve been very upfront. Every penny we make outside of operating costs goes directly to breast cancer research, not awareness or family aid.
In 2015, we donated a total of $4,471.54. That check went directly to Cancer League of Colorado as part of our partnership. One major benefit to partnering with Cancer League of Colorado is their commitment to supporting breast cancer research. In fact, they have a full scientific advisory board that reviews incoming grant applications and evaluates them based on likelihood of success and more. By rolling our smaller donation into other Cancer League funds, we knew we would be supporting cutting edge research that would make a difference.
The Cancer League of Colorado advisory board meets to review grant applications in April with winners decided a few months later on. We’ve been waiting anxiously to hear where exactly our funds went from last year. The wait is over!
We’re proud and excited to share that the money we raised with your help in 2015 was part of a larger grant given to Dr. Diana Cittelly PhD at Anschutz Medical Campus!
The entire Anschutz team was incredibly supportive during our first year and continues to support us into year two. We’re so thrilled that we were able to give back to them in a small way.
We reached out to Dr. Cittelly directly to learn more about the research these funds will support and the potential opportunities for breast cancer breakthroughs in the future.
What specifically does your lab focus on?
My lab is focused on studying the mechanisms that allow breast cancer cells to colonize the brain, with long-term goal of identifying alternative treatment options for women with this -often terminal- diagnosis.
Metasteses are tumors that have spread from a primary organ to elsewhere in the body. Dr. Cittelly elaborated that brain metasteses are a bit different than those found elsewhere in the body (like those found in the lung or bone) for two primary reasons.
First, “brain metastases develop in a unique organ, protected by the brain blood barrier (which limits access for most drugs),” she explained.
Second, they’re “comprised by a very specialized groups of cells that control brain function in a tightly regulated manner.” This makes treating brain metasteses difficult and unfortunately can lead to terminal diagnoses.
Brain metasteses are particularly relevant for younger women. “If breast cancer is diagnosed in pre and perimenopausal women (younger women), these women have increased risk of developing brain metasteses independent on the primary tumor subtype, which suggest a role for ovarian hormones in brain metastases progression.” Understanding estrogen’s role in promoting these metasteses and identifying potential treatment options moving forward is critical.
Can you tell us specifically how the funds from Drink for Pink will be used?
The money raised by Pink for Drink will be used to determine if a protein (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF) normally secreted by brain-cells, promotes the growth of breast cancer cells in the brain.
Dr. Cittelly’s lab has already identified a bit of an anomaly—breast cancer and brain metastic cells that express the receptor for BDNF. “We hypothesize that BDNF interacts with TrkB [Note: BDNF receptors] when breast cancer cells reach the brain, activating different intracellular signals that allow these cells to survive in this new environment,” she explained.
Tying back to the above focus on estrogen, Dr. Cittelly noted that BDNF levels increase with higher levels of estrogen potentially implying that estrogen could promote these brain metastases.
Where could this eventually take us if the pilot research is successful?
If these preliminary studies support our hypothesis, this will allow us to obtain major grant funding and determine whether blocking BDNF and/or TrkB plays a role in brain metastatic colonization in animal models…If successful, we envision that targeting TrkB+ cells could reduce brain metastatic burden in breast cancer patients.
This parrallels with our vision for Drink for Pink—supporting promising research and funding seed grants to take that research to the next level.
We can’t express just how excited we are that Dr. Cittelly was awarded a grant from Cancer League of Colorado containing the funds raised in 2015 from Drink for Pink. We’ll continue to follow-up on her research and keep you updated. In the meantime, we’re aiming to double our total for 2016. Find out how you can play a part!