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Katherine Nathanson has received a $3 million grant to study how BRCA genes affect immune function.

Katherine Nathanson, deputy director of Penn's Abramson Cancer Center, has received a $3 million grant to study how breast cancer, or BRCA, genes affect immune function, the Almanac reported.

The grant, awarded by the Gray Foundation, will support several of Nathanson's current studies. One project will investigate whether healthy people with BRCA mutations have a different immune response to the flu vaccine than those without the mutations. Another project will look at BRCA-related cancers to explore the connection between their molecular structure and their ability to produce an immune response.

Nathanson's research looks at BRCA gene mutations, or specific genetic changes associated with increased rates of breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. In April, Nathanson was named the inaugural Pearl Basser Professor for BRCA-related research in Penn Medicine's Basser Center for BRCA. 

About 72% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and about 69% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by the age of 80, according to a 2017 JAMA study.  

“It’s a serious concern for many individuals, especially those in the Ashkenazi Jewish population who are more likely to carry a BRCA1/2 mutation than the general public,” Nathanson told the Almanac. “But I’m truly encouraged by the brilliant, compassionate researchers working toward better treatment and prevention.”

Several other Penn researchers are also part of teams that have received funding from The Gray Foundation.

Based in New York City, the Gray Foundation focuses on supporting BRCA-related research and is led by 1992 College and Wharton graduate Jon Gray and 1992 College graduate Mindy Gray. In 2012, the Grays donated $30 million to establish the Basser Center for BRCA at the Abramson Cancer Center, named for Mindy Gray's sister Faith Basser who died from a BRCA-related ovarian cancer.

Nathanson's award was one of seven research grants given to study the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of BRCA-related cancers. In July, the foundation awarded $25 million to support the seven research study teams.

Several other Penn researchers are also part of teams that have received funding from the Gray Foundation. Roger Greenberg, director of Basic Science at the Basser Center, received $3.75 million along with principal investigator Patrick Sung, a biochemistry professor from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Susan Domchek and Ronny Drapkin, who serve respectively as executive director and director of gynecologic cancer research at the Basser Center, received $3.75 million as part of a research team, the Almanac reported.

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