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Researchers Test Less Invasive Breast Cancer Screening

Keck School of Medicine of USC researchers will test whether a set of blood-based biomarkers can assist mammography in the early detection of breast cancer with a $180,000 grant from Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The grant will fund research into whether specific biomarkers, or minute substances in the blood, can effectively distinguish breast cancer patients from their healthy counterparts and whether an inexpensive, less invasive screening strategy can be developed based on this approach.

“Breast cancer progression is marked by increased levels of a DNA modification, known as DNA methylation, at certain positions in the human genome, and this increase can be detected in the blood from these patients,” said investigator Simeen Malik, postdoctoral research associate at the USC Epigenome Center. “The research will help us detect these differences in the blood, an approach that may be more effective than current image-based screening techniques like mammography since it is based on the underlying biology of the tumor.”

These diagnostic tests could potentially be administered more frequently than mammography, which may result in earlier detection of the breast tumor by six to 12 months, Malik said.

Malik and Peter W. Laird, director of the USC Epigenome Center, will lead the research in collaboration with investigators at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and City of Hope National Medical Center.

The Komen for the Cure grant is part of $2.8 million in research money Komen is investing in California medical institutions this year alone. These funds are part of a $59 million portfolio of research grants that Komen is funding in 2010 to find the cures for breast cancer and to end the disease.

“We can’t say it often enough: Early detection saves lives and too few women are getting the screenings they should be getting today. This is a global issue, one that Susan G. Komen for the Cure is putting considerable energy into solving by funding research that may lead to more portable, accessible and more accurate breast cancer screening on a global scale,” said Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people and energize science to find the cures.

Since 1994, Komen has awarded more than $47 million in research in California.

Komen also has funded $450 million in research globally, starting with Komen’s first grant in 1982 for $28,000. In the past four years alone, Komen has provided $300 million to research programs.

The seven Komen affiliates that serve California invested $10 million in their local communities last year for early detection and treatment of breast cancer, breast health education and outreach programs.

Komen affiliates invested a total of $130 million in their local communities across the country. During the past 28 years, Komen has invested more than $900 million to community education and support programs worldwide.

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