Notre Dame-Kenyan Researchers join efforts: Aggressive Breast Cancer


The words breast cancer spark fear in most women and with good reason. One in eight women in the U.S. will get breast cancer in their lifetime.

Fortunately, through early detection, death rates have been dropping. However that is not the case in the most aggressive forms of the disease and that has researchers at Notre Dame joining forces with scientists in Africa where breast cancer is growing at an alarming rate.
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Dr. Sharon Stack, Director of the Harper Cancer Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame received a grant from the Walther Cancer Foundation for a joint study with Moi University in Kenya, allowing researchers to student the most aggressive and deadly forms of breast cancer.
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Rispah Torrorey, a doctoral student at Moi University Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya came to Notre Dame armed with hundreds of tissue samples from women in Kenya.

Dr. Laurie Littlepage, lead researcher on the project says breast cancer across Africa is growing in a much younger population. Littlepage says, "In Kenya some of the patients get breast cancer in their teens and twenties, very early, very aggressive and many of the patients die. So we decided it would nice if we could study what genes are expressed in the tumors."
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When the samples arrived researchers at Harper got right to work. Littlepage explained, "We're also going to sequence the whole genomes from these patients. That will tell us if there are certain mutations in the genes themselves."
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Dr. Stack says studies show breast cancer in Africans appears to appear earlier in life than caucasians and is more aggressive.
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And not just in Africa. Here in Indiana, African American women have one of the highest mortality rates nationwide.Stack says the research will give them a unique opportunity, "We are hoping that we may uncover some novel mutations, in this kenyan population, that might help us understand this disparity in the african american population here in Indiana."
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If these researchers can uncover those mutations and determine whether it's a gene mutation or environmental, it may eventually help doctors say Littlepage, "It's important to develop or identify prognostic markers, ones that will tell us which patients will develop the aggressive disease, because those are the patients that are still dying."

That discovery could lead to new drug treatments for deadly forms of breast cancer. Stack says, "We need a whole medicine chest full of drugs so that we can really target the individual cells in the tumor that affects the individual woman."
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Research on a unique manifestation in Africa that could lead to treatment for all women with aggressive breast cancer.
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The research is in its early stages but Littlepage is hopeful saying, "I am excited to be doing research that could potentially have a strong impact on very aggressive breast cancers."

Dr. Stack agrees, adding, "Our hope is that we will uncover novel mutations that will hlep women worldwide with breast cancer. That's where the hope is, once we target those mutations that will increase survival."
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Hope, coming from a joint venture between Notre Dame and a university hospital nearly 8-thousand miles away that may provide a breakthrough to a major global health problem.
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AMPATH, a consortium of North American Academic Health Centers led by Indiana University School of Medicine, has been working with Moi University since 1989 and is also partnered with this project.


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