As I travel both within the United States and throughout the world, I find myself frequently answering questions like, â€œWhat exactly is a research foundation?â€ and â€œWhat precisely do you do?â€
I could easily talk for hours on both topics. But I think there are two words that quickly and easily sum up our work: nurturing innovation. The Foundation, which began as The Santa Barbara Breast Cancer Institute in 1983, was the brainchild of Dr. Otto Sartorius. He believed we would be able to find a cure for breast cancer by focusing our research on the breast ducts and the fluid inside them. In essence, Dr. Sartorius wanted to develop a “Pap” test to detect breast cancer before it has spread, similar to the Pap test used to detect cervical cancer. Innovative? You bet.
Today, nearly 25 years later, the Foundation is a recognized leader in this intraductal approach to breast cancer. Dr. Sartorius passed away in 1994, and I often think: If only he could see the Foundationâ€”and the innovative work we are doing, and nurturingâ€”now!
The pilot grants we award to researchers at our biennial International Symposium on the Intraductal Approach to Breast Cancer remain one of the most important ways in which we nurture innovation. It is very hard to get funding for novel research if you donâ€™t have at least some initial data. The catch-22 is that it is hard to get initial data without funding. The Foundation seeks to solve this dilemma by giving researchers pilot grants to flesh out their new ideas and help them go on to obtain larger funding. We like to think of it as fertilizer to help new ideas grow.
The researchers who receive these pilot grants hail from throughout the world, and their projects are as varied as they are. James Going, PhD, at the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, for example, is conducting research on the anatomy of the nipple and breast ducts that could lead to a better understanding of how to use the intraductal approach to diagnose and treat breast cancer. And Kimberly Baltzell, RN, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, is studying whether there are viruses present in nipple aspirate fluid that could be the cause of breast cancer. These research projects, like other we have funded, have the potential to help lead to the development of the breast Pap smear Dr. Sartorius dreamed of as well as other treatment techniques that will help us eradicate breast cancer. You can learn more about all of the research projects we have funded here.
Occasionally there are ideas or approaches that we feel are not getting enough attention. When this occurs, we tackle these questions ourselves, seeking out funding that will allow us to pursue the innovative intraductal research we believe will bring us closer to ending breast cancer. Our groundbreaking study on the normal breast is using ductal lavage along with ultrasound and ductoscopy to advance our understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the breast ducts. Findings from this project will help us identify what conditions are necessary inside the breast ducts for precancerous cells to grow and for cancer cells to invade and spread. This, in turn, will help us figure out new ways to stop breast cancer cells before they can wreak havoc.
The research we conduct also allows us to nurture young scientists. This past year, we had the pleasure of working with Mitra Nejad and Julie Tondre, both of whom were awarded undergraduate degrees earlier this month from the University of California, Los Angeles. (Congratulations, graduates!) Mitra is heading off to medical school, while Julie will be spending a second year as a research assistant at the Foundation. During their time at the Foundation, Mitra and presented data at a national meeting and authored a paper and two abstracts. This summer, we are delighted to have two high school seniors as well as several pre-med students working with us on our projects.
The Foundation also nurtures experienced researchers who are interested in the intraductal approach. Later this month, for example, Dr. Hong Ling-Doc, a breast surgeon from Shanghai, China, will begin working alongside us at the Foundation. She will be learning how to perform ductal lavage and conduct intraductal research, with the aim of expanding a similar research project in China.
Of course, all of this innovative work would not be possible without people like you who are interested in and support our efforts. Please help us continue to nurture the innovative work that is going to bring us to the end of breast cancer by donating to the Foundation today.
P.S. If you have other questions about the work we are doing to bring us to the end of breast cancer, please email me. Iâ€™ll answer them in a future newsletter.