The University Record, November 5, 1996

$6.2 million will fund new breast cancer research

The Cancer and Geriatrics Center will house medical research in breast cancer.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Maria White
Cancer Center Public Relations

The Comprehensive Cancer Center has received 13 four-year grants totaling more than $6 million to fund new research and expand ongoing efforts to prevent, detect and treat breast cancer.

The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command awarded the grants as a result of Congressional appropriations for breast cancer research included in the Department of Defense budgets for fiscal year 1995.

"With the approval of these grants, the University of Michigan now receives among the highest federal funding for breast cancer research of any U.S. institution," says Max S. Wicha, oncologist and director of the Cancer Center. "Such a strong research program allows us to develop innovative approaches to fighting breast cancer, which span from the areas of basic biology to gene therapy to psychological issues related to genetic screening," he says.

Cancer Center researchers are focusing on:


Developing a genetically engineered vaccine to boost the immune system's ability to destroy breast cancer cells.


Studying the effects of radiation therapy on breast cells that carry the BRCA-1 mutation (a genetic defect that predisposes women to inherited breast cancer).


Exploring the psychological impact of genetic testing on a group of women with a family history of breast cancer who will be among the first to be tested for the BRCA-1 mutation.


Developing a bilingual (Spanish and English) tool for educating women and their families about genetic testing in the clinical setting.


Studying the use of computer programs to provide radiologists with a second opinion when interpreting abnormal breast masses found by mammography.


Conducting basic laboratory research to understand why breast cancer cells become resistant to treatment and how to trigger cell death in cancerous breast tissue.

This is the second time the Army has funded breast cancer research. In 1994, U-M scientists were awarded nine four-year grants totaling nearly $6 million.

"Funding for breast cancer research is a very emotional issue, and advocates have been extremely effective, in this case influencing the allocation of funding originally earmarked for military defense to now help `defend' women against breast cancer," Wicha says.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women; one in eight will develop the disease in her lifetime. Age and family history are the primary risk factors for breast cancer, which is expected to kill more than 44,000 American women this year.

Early next year, the U-M Breast Care Center and new Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk Evaluation Clinic will move into the new Cancer Center and Geriatrics Center building. The facility, which will house outpatient clinics and research laboratories, is designed to enhance interdisciplinary efforts aimed at cancer treatment and research.

For more information about breast cancer, call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine nurses at (800) 865-1125, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.