A blend of terrific advocates, great scientists, and wonderful clinicians along with good weather led to our best Symposium yet! The meeting combined young eager researchers, experienced creative thinkers, and challenging advocates, all laser-focused on understanding the breast and how breast cancer develops. The science and possibilities for progress are still percolating in my head, and there were many highlights; too many to list all of them here. Beginning with the kick off by Barry Gusterson, PhD, University of Glasgow, who described the status of breast pathology and what we may have forgotten that we knew, but now applied to current thinking. Then there was the lively presentation from Mina Bissell, PhD, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, on how context (or microenvironment) matters in determining and understanding how cells will behave. James Hicks, PhD, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, showed how he can do complex genetic analysis of single cells to better understand the evolution of cancers. Probably the most jaw-dropping “Next Generation” science presentation was from Donald Ingber, MD, PhD, and head of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, who showed how his team can build organ models (e.g., a “breathing” lung) on a chip. Dr. Ingber is now considering a collaboration with Thea Tlsty, PhD, University of California at San Francisco, who has identified unique cells in the breast that are capable of becoming a variety of different tissues from cartilage to beating heart muscle. Getting these two scientists together may well lead to the first functional model of a breast on a chip, which could help us replicate and study the conditions that cause breast cancer to develop! Another surprise from Ann Ramsdell, PhD, University of South Carolina, was the data that in mice, the left breast tissue is different molecularly than the. Is this true in women? We don’t know, but a collaboration was formed at the meeting with Andrew Maidment, PhD at University of Pittsburgh to look at this question in an existing database.
We are just beginning to learn how the presence of bacteria and viruses in the breast may play a role in breast cancer. We heard from Camilla Urbaniak, a PhD student at University of Western Ontario, representing a team in Canada and Ireland that has mapped the presence of bacteria in cancerous breasts and normal ones. And a study was also presented by our collaborator, Delphine Lee, MD, PhD, at the John Wayne Cancer Institute that showed the possibility that there could actually be a protective bacteria in the breast. This is an important space to watch. This only begins to describe the three days which climaxed with presentations by consortia formed during the Symposium to compete for pilot grant money. Competition for funding these novel ideas and approaches was fierce in this science version of “Shark Tank!” And four of the fourteen newly-formed research groups went home with funds to start exploring their ideas, which you can read about here. We have now also heard that a fifth group formed during the Symposium has been allocated funding to pursue the study they presented at the meeting!
But rather than me going on about how unique and inspiring the International Symposium on the Breast is for us here at Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, let’s have the attendees speak for themselves. Here are just some of the comments we received: “I have been telling anyone who will listen about the amazing things I saw and heard last week. I can’t wait to be a bigger part of this amazing community!” Advocate “I learned such a lot – it opened up my eyes to some things (intraductal approach, breast microbiome, lateralization) that I had honestly never thought about before, and now can’t stop!” Researcher from Ireland “Thank you for organizing such a diverse but focused meeting! Nothing else like it that I know of.” Clinical researcher “I really feel like I learned new and important information. I appreciate that you gave me the opportunity to share our story with that group of scientists and advocates.” Basic scientist “It is my tremendous honor to be invited attending this fantastic symposium. I appreciated this great opportunity to exchange ideas and thoughts with so many great researchers.” Clinical researcher “We have reached the stage of life where we need to ensure that through our actions and words, we inspire the young scientists to enter the fields and stick it out. Were you not as thrilled as I when these young scientists got together in groups and plotted their strategy to get the pilots? It was great and is truly a unique way of doing things.” Senior researcher
But we are not sitting on our laurels! The task now is to continue the momentum generated at the Symposium by sharing discoveries, as well as roadblocks and challenges. We will continue to exchange ideas, and facilitate progress in these novel new directions with your ongoing support, along with the wonderful members of the Army of Women® who stand ready to participate in moving this research forward. Speaking of the Army, kudos and thanks to the advocates and volunteers who participated in the Symposium. We can’t make progress in ending breast cancer without women like your advocates and Charlayne Fliege and Kate Yamasaki, who braved the ductoscopy and ductal lavage live demonstrations with strength, patience, and smiles. You can read An Advocate’s Voice here, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more from these tremendously dedicated women who represent the hundreds of thousands of Army of Women volunteers across the U.S. Happy Year of the Goat. We’re charging forward! Susan