Avon Foundation Funds Roswell Park Research of Potential Vaccine Target for Aggressive Breast Cancer

BUFFALO, NY — Foluso Ademuyiwa, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, has received a $130,000 grant from the Avon Foundation for Women to study the relationship between cancer testis antigens and an aggressive form of breast cancer called triple-negative breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a subset of breast cancer in which the cells are characterized by the absence of estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and HER2 overexpression.

Because triple-negative breast cancer lacks these characteristics, “these cancer cells lack a druggable target,” explains Dr. Ademuyiwa. “Anti-estrogens and anti-HER2 agents are not effective. That leaves us with traditional chemotherapy, which does work well at least initially. However, women with TNBC tend to relapse more quickly and have poorer outcomes. It’s an aggressive cancer and it’s more difficult to treat.”

Dr. Ademuyiwa will focus on a specific cancer testis antigen called NY-ESO-1, which is associated with other malignancies such as ovarian cancer and melanoma, and with high-grade tumors. A preliminary study indicated an association between the antigen and TNBC, but the small sample size indicated a larger study was needed.

Her research will examine tissue samples from 200 cases of TNBC and 50 cases of non-TNBC to determine how frequently NY-ESO-1 is expressed in TNBC. She plans to examine the association between the antigen and clinical outcomes and survival of women with TNBC. In addition, she will look at associations between the antigen and tumor-infiltrating CD8+ T cells, a potential indication of the body’s ability to recognize the antigen and induce an immune response and a possible marker for improved survival.

The implication of her findings could lead quickly to a treatment option. Clinical studies involving a promising vaccine that targets NY-ESO-1 are already underway at Roswell Park. Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology at Roswell Park and Director of the Institute’s Center for Immunotherapy, developed a vaccine that triggers an immune response in ovarian patients whose tumor tests positive for the NY-ESO-1 antigen.

“This is very exciting,” says Dr. Ademuyiwa. “It could mean a new therapeutic strategy for women with this aggressive form of disease.”

The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Roswell Park, founded in 1898, was one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit Roswell Park’s website at https://www.roswellpark.org/, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email AskRoswell@Roswellpark.org.

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