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Common treatment measures, such as hormone therapies or receptor-targeting drugs, are not effective for triple-negative breast cancer, otherwise known as TNBC.

Credit: Son Nguyen

Perelman School of Medicine professor Angela DeMichele will be leading a clinical trial targeting triple-negative breast cancer, otherwise known as TBNC. DeMichele has received a $3 million grant from Stand Up 2 Cancer and Genetech, the Penn Almanac reported. 

DeMichele is an Alan and Jill Miller Professor in Breast Cancer Excellence and director of the Breast Cancer Clinical Trials Unit at the Abramson Cancer Center. She will use the grant to support a clinical trial aimed at preventing the recurrence of triple-negative breast cancer, Penn Almanac reported. 

TNBC, is a breast cancer tumor in which cancer cells lack all three common receptors that are known to fuel cancer growth, including estrogen, progesterone, and HER-2. As a result, common treatment measures, such as hormone therapies or receptor targeting drugs, are not effective for TNBC. However, TNBC is aggressive and has the ability to “spread after treatment with radiation, chemotherapy or surgery,” according to Penn Almanac.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, TNBC occurs in 10% to 20% of diagnosed breast cancers and is more likely to affect people who are young, black, Latinx, or have a BRCA1 gene mutation. 

“Currently, women with triple-negative breast cancer have a high risk of recurrent, metastatic disease after they are initially treated,” DeMichele told Penn Almanac. "This trial will utilize a blood test for circulating tumor DNA to identify women at risk. Our goal is to harness the immune system to eliminate the cancer once and for all."

DeMichele will work with Elizabeth Mittendorf, director of the breast immuno-oncology program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston. The researchers will utilize a blood test to detect the spread of TNBC before it controls distinct organs and will use a combination of drugs to prevent the spreading of cancer and protect the immune system.

Penn researchers have studied TNBC in the past. Previously in Feb. 2018, a group of researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine found patients at more advanced stages of TNBC were likely to have the lower copy numbers of mitochondrial DNA, which could provide a pathway for targeting future drug therapies.