New program targets breast, ovarian cancer

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Scientists and researchers have long struggled to turn the latest advances in the laboratory into actual treatments for sick patients.

A new center at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the Magee-Womens Research Institute will aim to address that -- primarily for breast and ovarian cancer.

The Women's Cancer Research Center, which already includes two new hires and about a dozen existing faculty members, will unify ongoing programs.

"The center allows us to bring together people from different disciplines to reach a common goal," said Adrian Lee, newly appointed director of the WCRC. "To do research like this, you need to have basic scientists, oncologists, surgeons, medical oncologists. You need to bring all these people together and allow them to speak the same language, allow the fostering of research ideas."

Before joining the WCRC, Dr. Lee was an associate professor of medicine and molecular and cellular biology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

He is known for research into growth factor pathways, his work has been published in nearly 100 publications and he was recently appointed to the Scientific Advisory Council of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

One high priority area for the WCRC will be research on molecular characterization of tumors in order to match specific treatments to specific patients.

"The goal of this is to essentially personalize medicine so that you treat the people who will best respond to it," he said. "There have been incredible advances in techniques to analyze tumors in the last few years."

He said that he expected the center to have "a rapid and major impact on reducing the burden" of women's cancers.

The center will be physically based at the Magee-Womens Research Institute in Oakland but will involve researchers in both Oakland and in Shadyside.

In addition to Dr. Lee, the center also yesterday announced the hiring of Steffi Oesterreich as director of education.

Dr. Oesterreich, an expert in estrogen receptor biology and action, also comes from the Baylor College of Medicine, where she established a graduate program for translational biology and molecular medicine.

Nancy Davidson, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, said that the WCRC was a natural fit for Pittsburgh to build on the strengths that the city has in breast and ovarian cancer, as well as translational science.

She couldn't speculate on how many people the WCRC would eventually encompass, noting that it was "in its growing phase."


Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.


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