Cellular, molecular and genetic research over the past decade has aimed to unlock the mystery of breast cancer. Researchers gain momentum by building on their most promising discoveries and need a steady stream of dollars to sustain their ongoing programs of study. In today's competitive environment, institutions with the largest discretionary funds are the most successful in attracting the finest candidates. With vital funding from primary sources such as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the American Cancer Society shrinking and rivalry for these dollars expanding, this type of funding has been destabilized.
In looking to future research initiatives, partnerships that involve sharing financial as well as substantive goals will play an increasingly important role. In order to recruit and retain the most talented scientists in breast cancer research, the Lynn Sage Foundationhas forged a philanthropic partnership with the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and Rush University Medical Center.
The recruitment of talented new faculty is an enduring priority for every dynamic research enterprise. To generate vitality, institutions must attract both faculty on the threshold of their careers needing essential startup funds, as well as established investigators who require funds to expand their existing programs.
Crucial to success in this highly competitive environment is the ability to retain talented researchers. Investigators' long-term gains depend upon a line of research continuing without interruption. This requires a vigorous and stable flow of funds.
The Foundation funds a core scholarship. Awards, determined by a highly seasoned Advisory Board, offer the chosen candidate $100,000 per year for a maximum of two years. Our recipients directly propose how to best utilize their funding dollars and undergo review at the end of their first year as a Lynn Sage Scholar.
Dr. Abukhdeir is currently an assistant professor of Medicine and Pharmacology at Rush University Medical Center. He completed his Ph.D. at Loyola University. He then went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University, where he identified mechanisms of tamoxifen resistance and published several papers in high-profile journals, including Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences and Blood. Later, he transitioned into a junior faculty member, where Dr. Abukhdeir collaborated with the Stand Up to Cancer Epigenetic Dream Team to identify molecular predictors of response to epigenetic therapies. In 2012, Dr. Abukhdeir moved to Rush University to begin an independent faculty appointment.
Dr. Abukhdeir’s research group investigates molecular variants that lead to or contribute to drug resistance in breast cancer. These molecular variants have the potential to serve as predictive biomarkers or novel targets for therapies. His group has identified a group of genes whose expression can predict which patients will respond to trastuzumab therapy. More recently, they have repurposed drugs that block key growth signaling pathways for use in breast cancer.
Dr. Mendillo is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. He joined Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in 2015. Dr. Mendillo received his PhD from the University of California, San Diego and subsequently completed fellowships at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and the Whitehead Institute at MIT prior to arriving at the Lurie Cancer Center.
A major strategy in anti-cancer efforts is to define the oncogenic signaling networks that are aberrantly activated in malignancies and develop therapeutics that target essential nodes in these networks. Despite the dependence of tumors on such oncogenic pathways, the efficacy of these targeted therapies is limited by the inevitable development of acquired resistance. Besides the mutated oncogenic protein, cancer cells are often dependent on non-mutated, non-oncogene systems. These non-oncogene targets offer a fundamentally different therapeutic strategy aimed at the common and unusual biological requirements that characterize the malignant phenotype rather than at any one type of oncogenic lesion.
We have made fundamental insights into a prominent example of this “non-oncogene addiction”– the dependence of cancer cells upon the cellular stress response systems that are collectively known as the protein homeostasis (proteostasis) network. The proteostasis network guards the proteome from diverse endogenous and environmental insults to maintain the fitness of the organism. Ironically, this pro-survival system can act to the detriment of the host to enable tumor cells to accommodate to the many stresses associated with malignancy.
My research group bridges biochemistry, genetic and chemical biology approaches with systematic high-throughput and genomic methods to define how the master regulators of cell stress response pathways are regulated in cancer and how tumors use these cytoprotective responses for adaptation and for evolution of phenotypes. We aim to define the operating principles of these non-oncogene addictions in human malignancies and to reveal synergistic vulnerabilities that can be exploited for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, with the ultimate goal of adding to the next generation of the anticancer armamentarium.Interests
Dr. Vassilopoulos’ research focuses on the study of the genetic and biochemical connection between sirtuin genes and carcinogenesis as well as tumor cell resistance. One of the fundamental observations in oncology is that increasing age is the strongest statistic variable that predicts for carcinogenesis. A fact that has emerged over the last several years is that aging is a complex process that appears to be regulated, at least in part, by several signaling protein families that have been identified in multiple species, including sirtuins, a relatively new gene family. To address the idea that there may be a connection between sirtuin genes and carcinogenesis, the main focus of Dr. Vassilopoulos' laboratory is the potential mechanistic relationship between sirtuins and specific targets and/ or signaling pathways involved in the development of age-related diseases such as cancer. Dr. Vassilopoulos’ research goal is to elucidate the function of sirtuins in maintaining cellular homeostasis which may serve as a barrier to tumor genesis.
His reasearch to date provides solid evidence to support a novel role of sirtuins in breast tumor initiation with potential therapeutic applications. His lab also initiated and completed the first phase of a chemical library screen to identify new compounds aimed at targeting a subgroup of breast tumors characterized by low expression of sirtuins.
In 2017, Dr. Vassilopoulos is focused on securing funding to continue his lab’s current breast cancer work and initiating a new project focused on cancer prevention. Based on previous results showing the beneficial effect of nutritional interventions, such as calorie restriction, on slowing down age-related diseases, he will explore the mechanistic role of sirtuins, which have been shown to be activated under these conditions, in mediating this effect on breast cancer.
Dr. Vassilopoulos received his Ph.D. in Physiology at the University of Athens in Greece. He completed his Postdoctoral training in Cancer, Aging, and Metabolism at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Dr. Vassilopoulos is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Research in Dr. Cheng's lab focuses on investigating the biological components and pathways that control tumor metastasis and recurrence, which represent the two major obstacles in the successful treatment of cancer. For carcinoma cells to break away from neighboring cells and invade to distal organs, they must lose cell-cell contact and become motile and invasive. These changes in cancer cell properties are governed by a process named epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT).
Currently, the Cheng lab is investigating, at the molecular level, a critical role of several gene products in promoting EMT and breast cancer progression. They hope that their studies on dissecting the mechanisms of EMT and tumor progression may offer new strategies to predict disease prognosis and lead to identification of the therapeutic agents in inhibit EMT, thereby halting tumor progression.
Dr. Cheng received her medical degree from Peking University, Beijing, China and her PhD in Biochemistry with Dr. Stewart Shuman at Sloan-Kettering Institute, New York. Dr. Cheng then moved to Boston and did her postdoctoral training with Noble Laureate Phillip Sharp at the Center for Cancer Research, MIT. From August of 2007 through May of 2016, Dr. Cheng was on the faculty at the Northwestern University of Hematology/Oncology as an Assistant Professor. As of June 1, 2016 she has taken the position of Associate Professor at the Lester & Sue Smith Breast Center, Baylor College of Medicine after having received their prestigious Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Rising Stars Grant for $4mm.
Dr. Jeruss' clinical and basic research interests are focused on novel therapeutics for aggressive breast cancer subtypes, new approaches to manage cancer metastasis, incorporation of fertility preservation into the care of young patients with cancer, and surgical ethics. Her research program is funded by the National Institute of Health, which she received after being named the inaugural Lynn Sage Scholar in 2007. Not only a testament to her research expertise and resourcefulness, Dr. Jeruss also credits the funding she received from the Lynn Sage Foundation for preparing her to earn this prestigious grant. Dr. Jeruss' NIH grant is being used to investigate "The Oncogenic Significance of Cyclin Overexpression and Smad3 Tumor Suppression." The long-term goal of her investigation is to determine how changes in Smad 3 signal transduction affect breast cancer progression to help establish a molecular staging of the disease and to facilitate the discovery of new treatment options.
Dr. Jeruss is an Associate Professor in the Division of Surgical Oncology in the Department of Surgery at the University of Michigan. Dr. Jeruss also holds appointments in the Departments of Pathology and Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Jeruss received her medical degree from the University of Vermont. Dr. Jeruss completed her General Surgery residency training at Northwestern University Medical School and holds a PhD from Northwestern. She completed her fellowship in Breast Surgical Oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in 2006, and then returned to Northwestern where she reached the rank of Associate Professor of Surgery in the Division of Breast Surgery before moving to Michigan in 2014.
Dr. Jain's research focuses on immunotherapy as a complimentary approach for eliminating breast cancer. Successes of many treatments used in breast cancer, including chemotherapy and targeted drugs, are ultimately limited by resistance or side effects. Our work focuses on harnessing the body's own immune system to overcome these barriers. This novel approach entails a bacterial vaccine injected into a metastatic tumor, which causes massive tumor destruction and generates an immune response to specifically target and eliminate disseminated tumors throughout the body. The vaccine has shown impressive activity in animals and is currently being studied in cancer patients. She will be testing this treatment in women with metastatic breast cancer as well as collaborating with her basic science colleagues to further understand and improve upon this technology in the lab.
Dr. Jain received her medical degree at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. She completed her Internship and Residency in Internal Medicine at The University of Michigan, and a Fellowship in Hematology/Oncology at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Jain is currently an Assistant Professor of Medicine and is working towards a Master of Science in Clinical Investigation at Northwestern University.
Dr. Virginia Kaklamani has been working to identifying patients at high risk for breast, ovarian and colon cancers based on their genetic background. Dr. Kaklamani has been looking at novel genes and individual risk based on changes in these genes and has been working on several genes and their relation to cancer risk, most notably TGF-beta and adiponectin. One change in TGF-beta has been shown to be associated with increased colon and breast cancer risk in individuals who carry it. Also adiponectin, which is also related to obesity and diabetes, has also been found to change breast and colon cancer risk. The result of this research will help identify correctly high risk patients and offer these individuals better preventative measures (such as oophorectomy) or better screening strategies such as colonoscopies, MRIs of breast and more frequent mammograms.
Dr. Kaklamani is also working on identifying risk factors for weight gain in women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer. It has been shown that women with breast cancer gain weight and this weight gain increases the chance of recurrence of their cancer. Dr Kaklamani has initiated a study to evaluate breast cancer related weight gain, looking at genes that may be responsible for the weight gain as well as treatment related effects. "The Lynn Sage Foundation has given me the support to examine the role of obesity and obesity related genes in breast cancer," says Dr. Kaklamani, "This will help our breast cancer patients live longer and better lives."
Dr. Kaklamani is a Professor of Medicine, as well as the Leader of the Breast Oncology Program at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. She is also Co-Director of the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She received her medical degree at the University of Athens, completed her residency in Internal Medicine at Newton Wellesley Hospital, and completed a Hematology and Oncology Fellowship at Northwestern University.
A pledge of $200,000 over two years fully supports a Lynn Sage Scholarship, awarded to a promising researcher in the donor's name.
Scholars adopt the prestigious name of the donor and carry it with pride for two years, while donors become a valuable part of the research community.
If you would like to fully support a Lynn Sage Scholar, please call Laura Sage at 312.488.1457 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every dollar contributed to the Lynn Sage Foundation fortifies the efforts of Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center scientists targeted as Lynn Sage Scholars. The Foundation welcomes contributions of any amount. Your dollars can help attract a promising young researcher just starting a career or fortify the continuity of a line of research for an established investigator. Make your donation now!