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Aiming for a cure, hoping to prevent breast cancer

October 27, 2014

SPRINGFIELD – Since day one the mission of the Rays of Hope – A Walk and Run Toward the Cure of Breast Cancer has been clearly stated in its title.

“While we continue to aim for a cure, it would be even better if we could prevent breast cancer altogether. Rays of Hopehas responded to this quest by making research its number one priority,” said Dr. Grace Makari-Judson,chair of the Baystate Health Breast Network and co-director of the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research (ROH CBCR).

“Important scientific findings on the national level, combined with increased research locally at the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research here in Springfield, are contributing to the growing hope,” she added.

The ROH CBCR represents a collaboration between Baystate Medical Center, Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute and University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Over the past three years, the CBCR has funded 14 projects, including research in areas looking at benign changes in the breast that can increase risk of cancer (atypical hyperplasia), metabolism, exercise and the environment.

According to Dr. D. Joseph Jerry, co-director of the ROH CBCR , one of the ROH funded projects and an area of interest to the CBCR is trying to better understand the protective effects of pregnancy. This work has, in part, led to the receipt of a larger grant to the group from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program for $1 million to investigate novel strategies for prevention.

One of the unique aspects of the CBCR is its Breast Research Registry, where large amounts of information are stored relating to the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer and other breast problems. The registry links unused tissue from the time of breast surgery to clinical and demographic information, in order to gain insight into molecular aspects of benign breast disease and breast cancer.

Availability of human tissues and clinical records provide the best resource to understand breast cancer, but are also the most difficult to obtain. However, since its inception, over 300 women have consented to participate in the Breast Research Registry. “Collecting tissue of defined characteristics for a single study can take years and represents a major hurdle. In contrast, having a research ready resource allows scientists to immediately test questions and identify the most important elements of disease and targets for therapies within a short timeframe. The collaboration among scientists, clinicians and patients also reminds researchers of the human impact that focuses and energizes efforts,” said Dr. Jerry.

CBCR co-directors Dr. Makari-Judson and Jerry see the Center for Breast Cancer Research Center as a model for advocacy-driven research.

As a result, the scientists have set up a Research Advocacy Council to help establish a research agenda based on local priorities, such as discovering why the average age of breast cancer onset locally is 5-10 years younger than it is nationally. The CBCR’s advocacy group has six members – all cancer survivors, some of whom have participated in clinical trials and all are active in the community.

According to Dr. Makari-Judson, advocates commonly drive the questions researchers try to answer, provide a better understanding of the patient population to be studied, assist in recruiting patients into trials, and suggest ways to improve the clinical trial experience for participants. Also, to integrate input from the advocacy group into the research process, two advocates also attend the CBCR Research Review Board meetings.

For more information on the Baystate Regional Cancer Program, visit