Penn gets $25 million to study breast cancer genes

    Two University of Pennsylvania alumni donated $25 million to start a new cancer research center at the school. The Basser Research Center, to open this summer, will be dedicated to studying prevention, detection and treatment options for cancers associated with mutations on two different “breast cancer genes.”

    Women who have a mutation in the BRCA1 gene have up to an 80 percent chance of getting breast cancer in their lifetime, and a 45 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer, said Dr. Susan Domchek, the Penn oncologist who will run the new center.

    Now, she said the only options for significantly reducing that risk are surgical.

    “Removal of the breasts or removal of the ovaries,” Domchek said. “This is the standard of care right now, but we really need to do better, we need to be able to offer women different strategies to reduce their risk of cancer.”

    To that aim, the new center will research cancer-prevention vaccines as well as targeted drug treatments.

    It will also provide counsel and care for patients.

    Dr. Vered Stearns, co-director of the breast cancer program at Johns Hopkins University, said the new center’s research could have implications for those who do not carry the mutation.

    “Although few of the cancers that are diagnosed today are related to BRCA 1 or 2 mutations, many of the cancers that we do diagnose have similarities on the molecular level,” Stearns said. “Therefore I believe that the research that will be established with the new center will help eventually almost every woman.”

    Mutations on the two different genes cause 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers and 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers in the U.S.

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