It’s all about the research

By KATHLEEN EDGECOMB

That’s the message Dr. Michael Garabedian delivered during the annual meeting of the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation, which has raised more than $4.4 million for breast cancer research since its founding in 2006.

“Researchers are making a difference,” said Garabedian, professor and course director at New York University Medical Center and a founding member of TBBCF. “I know at times it seems like cancer is winning … It takes a long time, unfortunately … but all this work will lead to the eradication of breast cancer.”

Speaking to about 100 people who attended the 13th annual TBBCF meeting at Flanders Fish Market and Restaurant in East Lyme, Garabedian, the keynote speaker, said every day he thinks of his sister-in-law, Norma Logan, who died from breast cancer shortly after establishing TBBCF with her friend Sandy Maniscalco.

Before she died, Norma Logan walked in breast cancer fundraisers and was discouraged when she learned how much of the money she raised went to overhead and not to research. She was determined to set up a new kind of organization, run mostly by volunteers and sponsorship dollars, that would direct 100 percent of donations directly to breast cancer researchers.

Garabedian, who is also a member of TBBCF’s scientific advisory board, said those in the room, who every year raise more than $300,000 and award at least three $100,00 research grants, are part of the system that is making a difference in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“Thinks are getting a little better,” he said, pointing out there are better screening and detection processes, more therapeutic options for treating certain kinds of breast cancer and advances in immuno-oncology, which uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

Cancer rates are falling, he said, and survival rates are going up. Researchers have discovered different types of breast cancers that require different types of treatments. And all that means better outcomes for patients, he said.

But researchers are still baffled by breast cancer. Why is breast cancer sometimes completely cured and sometimes comes roaring back at a later date? What wakes up dormant cells?

What signals get sent to wake up those cells and how do you break that signal? Those are just a few of the many unanswered questions that researchers are working on Garabedian said. Research is needed to find ways to harness the immune system to battle the disease.

Garabedian, and Susan Logan, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology and the department of urology at New York University Medical Center, make up the TBBCF Scientific advisory board, along Chairman Nicholas Saccomano, PhD, chief scientific officer at Array Bio-Pharma Inc.; Co-chair John LaMattina, PhD, former president of Pfizer Global Research and Development; and Michael Morin, PhD, chief executive officer of Immunome Inc. All are founding members of TBBCF. Logan also attended the annual meeting.

Each year, the advisory board reviews about 25 applications from young doctors and scientists who need funding to further their research into finding a cure for breast cancer. They are looking for those at the height of their scientific prowess and identify things that haven’t been developed before.

Researchers are making the difference,” Garabedian said, adding that those in the room who continue to raise money and support TBBCF also are making a difference.

Also speaking at the meeting was Brianne L. Ryan, director of corporate and foundation relations at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the Jimmy Fund Division of Philanthropy. Over the past nine years, TBBCF has awarded $1.9 million to 19 researchers at Dana-Farber, which has enabled many research milestones possible.

“That is nothing short of a miracle,” she said.

Dr. Veerle Daniels, one of two researchers from Dana-Farber who was awarded a $100,000 this year, is working on more targeted treatments for those with triple negative breast cancer. And Dr. Ana Garrido-Castro, also a 2019 grant recipient, is comparing tumor biology in relation to metastasized breast cancers.

“To date, both of these areas are not being looked at by other researchers,” Ryan said. “It’s exciting work conducted by rising researchers … And they would not be able to launch their careers without your support.”

The annual meeting also included a tribute to Sandy Maniscalco, co-founder, who is stepping back from most of her daily duties at the foundation. She will remain on the board of directors.

Two new board members were introduced at the meeting: Tricia Cunningham and Debbie Yother They replace Donna Yother, who has been involved with TBBCF for nearly 10 years; and Pat Newborg, who has been with TBBCF since the beginning.