Our three key values at Drink for Pink are transparency, local (meaning keep the money in Colorado), and research (focusing on cancer research exclusively). A big part of both the research and transparency angles is providing a detailed breakdown of where our donations go at the end of each year. In 2015, our funds went to Dr. Diana Cittelly PhD from Anschutz Medical Campus. We were beyond thrilled to support Dr. Cittelly, and we were even able to tour her lab at Anschutz to learn more about her research.
Today, we’re excited to share where our funds went from 2016, and the research you all helped to fund with your donations.
For those that aren’t familiar with the process, at the end of each year, we write a check to Cancer League of Colorado. This past year, that check was $8,000 (full financial breakdown here). Cancer League then uses that money to support a research grant with the help of their scientific advisory board. The benefit here is that we gain access to an insane amount of expertise and insight. Despite our best intentions, we’re unable to accurately vet out research grants and determine which ones are viable and most likely to succeed. Cancer League adds legitimacy to our efforts in that their team of volunteer researchers vets incoming grant requests and awards money to the most promising proposals. This process takes place throughout the first half of the year, which is why we generally won’t know exactly where our funds went until the latter half of the following year.
We’re beyond excited to share that our 2016 funds went to Dr. Britta Jacobsen, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Pathology at the University of Colorado Denver for the project titled “Examining the role of c-Kit in metastasis of Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer.”
We followed up with Dr. Jacobsen to learn more about her research and how our donations will help to push the project forward.
First, if you would like to read the full lay summary, you can find that here:
Spreading of breast tumors to other sites in the body (metastasis) is a major hurdle in the survival of women with breast cancer. We seek to identify the proteins that control spreading of breast tumor cells. One subtype of breast cancer, called Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC), differs from other types of breast cancer because ILC do not usually form a solid tumor that can be readily detected by mammography or breast self-exams, but rather ILC spread like a spider web through the breast. ILC tumors typically encompass such a large region of the breast that treatment often involves complete removal of the breast (mastectomy). In addition, ILC tumor cells metastasize to sites in the body (ovaries and gastrointestinal tract) that other types of breast cancer do not. One protein that is expressed in up to 30% of all ILC is a protein called c-Kit which controls many processes in cancer cells including growth and metastasis. Interestingly, human ovaries express the molecule (ligand) that activates c-Kit, called KITLG, thus we believe ILC tumor cells lodge and grow in the ovaries because the ovaries express KITLG which attracts the tumor cells expressing c-Kit. We have created new models of ILC tumor cells that either make a lot or very little c-Kit protein. We will use these cells to examine the effects of c-Kit on ILC tumor metastasis. We will also use a drug that blocks c-Kit from working in a cell to examine whether c-Kit determines the ability of tumor cells to spread to specific locations and/or if it determines the sites to which tumor cells spread and grow. We will also examine what genes are expressed when ILC cells metastasize to the ovaries of women. These studies may provide a new method to prevent breast cancer cells from spreading to other sites in the body.
Find out more from our interview with Dr. Jacobsen:
Q: Reading your abstract, it seems like you’re very focused on the spreading (metastasis) of breast cancer throughout the rest of the body. Can you talk a bit about why focusing on why tumor metastasis is so important for you?
Metastatic breast cancer, or stage 4 breast cancer, is very difficult to treat and generally incurable. Thus new therapies to treat patients with metastatic breast cancer are urgently needed. Our research tests a type of targeted therapy to treat metastatic disease.
Q. You mention Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) as a subtype of breast cancer. How does this type of breast cancer differ from other types?
Invasive lobular carcinomas (ILC) tend to be more difficult to detect on mammograms and are usually diagnosed at a later stage than other types of breast cancer. Versus other breast cancer subtypes, ILC also more frequently metastasize to unusual places within the body such as the ovaries and the gastrointestinal tract; this may be because ILC lack a cell adhesion protein called E-cadherin.
Q. Can you explain a bit more about the relationship between c-Kit (the protein found in many types of ILC cells) and breast cancer metastasis? For example, I know you mentioned that c-Kit proteins may make a cancer tumor more likely to spread to the ovaries.
We know that when ILC spread to the ovaries, they make a lot of the c-Kit protein. The ovaries make the protein that binds to, and activates c-Kit (called kit ligand). Thus our studies focus on whether c-Kit is at least partially responsible for the ILC tumor cells “homing” to the ovaries because the cancer cells that have c-Kit are attracted to the ovaries which make kit ligand.
Q. I know our piece of the grant was for $8,000 (we’re hoping for much more this year!). What was the total amount of the grant you were awarded? What does this allow you to do in the upcoming months/year with this project?
The total award is $30,000. Please know your $8000 contribution makes a HUGE difference in our research!! Every dollar counts and $8000 pays for a large part of materials and supplies we need to conduct our studies and we’re extremely grateful to all those who contributed and made our research project possible.
Once again, congratulations to Dr. Jacobsen specifically! A big thank you to Cancer League, Dr. Jacobsen, and everyone that donated to our efforts for 2016. We’re looking forward to seeing you out in 2017 at our events!