The longstanding history between the T.J. Martell Foundation and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center underscores the power of philanthropy in reducing the burden of cancer. While we celebrate the many advances that result from these powerful partnerships, we know that continued support will position us to make new discoveries that change the course of cancer for patients and families throughout the world.
Increases in cancer cure and survivorship over the past 30 years showcase the impact of discovery on cancer care. In 1971, one in 69 people was a cancer survivor, and a total of three million survivors lived in the United States. In 2012, one in 23 people is a cancer survivor, accounting for a national total of 13.7 million survivors. The collective efforts of all who fight cancer are responsible for these life-saving victories.
While these snapshots of progress are encouraging, malignant disease will continue to be common—and in need of directed treatment—for many years to come. Currently, between 35 percent and 40 percent of oncology treatment is genetically directed. While this represents an enormous increase over the last several decades, this figure also shows the potential and need for continued research and therapeutic discovery. This year alone, 1.6 million Americans will receive a new cancer diagnosis. The pace of discovery impacts the type of care each of these individuals will receive.
As we look to the future, to our ability to contribute to prevention, to develop new therapies and to use existing therapies in new ways, we are mindful of the enduring support we receive from our philanthropic partners. Without the strategic investments made by the T.J. Martell Foundation, Vanderbilt-Ingram’s ability to advance our understanding of cancer and impact patients’ lives would be distinctly different.
A major focus of research in the laboratory of Jennifer A. Pietenpol, Ph.D., is to define molecular changes that are frequent in breast cancer cells and to use bench-based discoveries to advance patient care. Treatment of patients with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) has been challenging due to the heterogeneity of the disease and the absence of well-defined molecular drivers amenable to targeted therapies. Thus, identification of predictive biomarkers is critical to select patients for more precise therapies against TNBC. For the past several years, Dr. Pietenpol’s group has been integrating their expertise in molecular genetics, with bioinformatic analyses of high dimensional genomic data sets, to molecularly sub-classify difficult-to-treat TNBC. They have been identifying and validating molecular ‘drivers’ involved in different types of TNBC as well as using the information gained to benefit patients and to generate the next set of hypotheses that they are testing at the bench.
The laboratory will continue to investigate novel therapeutic approaches based on the genetic and biological underpinnings of TNBC. They are very grateful for the T.J. Martell Foundation support and, in particular the recent support through the Martina McBride Cancer Research Fund as it has enabled a highly productive collaboration with Dr. Vandana Abramson, a leading medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Vanderbilt-Ingram. The cross-disciplinary collaboration is allowing for more rapid advancement of pre-clinical data from the bench to the clinic and thus, alignment of patients to molecularly targeted therapy.