Biome Study Update — February 2020: Breast Duct Study Coming Soon

Each breast is comprised of six to twelve duct-lobule units. Breast cancer usually appears in only one of those units. Though the rest of the breast is without disease, we’ve historically treated the entire breast. Years ago, Dr. Love began envisioning treatments that focused on the “sick duct” only.

Now that we have (finally!) mapped the breast, we can begin testing this highly focused approach. We hope injecting treatments into just the affected duct will produce fewer side effects, less damage to healthy tissue, and result in stronger tumor treatment effects.

We are thrilled to announce that Atossa Genetics will be using Dr. Love’s pioneering intraductal approach to investigate the effects of the commonly used drug fulvestrant in patients with early-stage breast cancer.

To ensure a smooth roll out Dr. Love and Research Manager Crystal Hertz (pictured) flew to Maryland to advise the John Hopkins team on intraductal technology. 

Partnering With the Best — Dr. Jenny Chang

Dr. Jenny C. Chang is the Director of Houston Methodist Cancer Center and the Emily Herrmann Chair in Cancer Research in Houston, Texas. After discovering that tumor-initiating cells are chemo-resistant, Dr. Chang spent ten years researching how to target those specific cells.

Now, in partnership with Dr. Susan Love Foundation, Dr. Chang is supporting the foundation by providing her clinical expertise on exploring the microbiome of the human breast.

World-renowned oncologist and clinical investigator Dr. Jenny C. Chang

The Biome Study is investigating a possible link between viruses and bacteria in the breast ducts to breast cancer.

In 2012, Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research (DSLRF) began collaborating with Delphine Lee, MD, PhD, from the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California, on a study investigating bacteria and viruses in ductal fluid. Many other types of cancers have been linked to viruses and bacteria, including cervical cancer which is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). The bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) can cause stomach cancer, and hepatitis C, a virus that causes inflammation of the liver, is one of the primary causes of liver cancer. This suggests it is possible that breast cancer also has an infectious origin.

Since breast cancer begins in the lining of the milk ducts, the first place to look for an infectious agent is in the ductal fluid. This fluid is collected easily, by massaging the breast and squeezing the nipple. For this study, we analyzed bacteria and viruses present in the ductal fluid collected from 48 women.

Study Participants

Forty-eight women, half with and half without a history of breast cancer, were recruited for the study using DSLRF’s Love Research Army.

To be included in the study, participants were required to be:

  • female
  • greater than 18 years of age
  • have at least one intact nipple
  • be able to provide informed consent

Participants were excluded if they:

  • had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer
  • had taken antibiotic therapy less than six months from the date of consent
  • had taken oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, any form of estrogen, any selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), or any aromatase inhibitors within 12 months from the date of consent
  • were currently lactating or had lactated within 12 months from the date of consent
  • had any known abnormal levels of sex hormones or prolactin
  • had received chemotherapy or radiation less than 12 months from the date of consent
  • had any subareolar or other surgery (papilloma resections, biopsies or fine needle aspirations) within 2 centimeters of the nipple
  • had any active infections or inflammation in the breast, or were unwilling to sign an informed consent

Study Procedures

Study participants completed a brief questionnaire and had ductal fluid collected from their breasts. Nipple aspirate fluid collection was attempted in both breasts of women without a history of breast cancer, and only in the healthy breast women with a history of breast cancer.

Click here to read an interview with Drs. Susan Love and Delphine Lee, in which they discuss why the study is unique and the potential impact on breast cancer prevention and treatment.



Since breast cancer begins in the lining of the milk ducts, the first place to look for an infectious agent is in the ductal fluid.

Love Research Army

We combat the disparities that exist in research by challenging the scientific community to launch studies that are as inclusive and diverse as the people that breast cancer affects.

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