Posted on October 3rd, 2011 by msequeira
The University of New Mexico Cancer Center has received a generous grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) to support innovative breast cancer research that could lead to more effective treatments for the disease. The new funding furthers the work of Eric Prossnitz, PhD, who is developing molecular probes that target a type of estrogen receptor – identified and characterized by Dr. Prossnitz and collaborators – that plays an important role in breast cancer. These probes show promise as the basis for new targeted therapies for breast cancer, particularly those forms that resist existing chemotherapy treatments.
“We are delighted and grateful to receive this gift from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico,” said Dr. Prossnitz, who co-leads the Women’s Cancers Research Program at the UNM Cancer Center and is a professor of Cell Biology and Physiology at UNM. “Research is essential to better understanding the biology of breast cancer and improving treatment options for women with the disease. We are very pleased that BCBSNM has chosen to support important breast cancer research happening here in New Mexico.”
“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico is proud to fund breast cancer research at the UNM Cancer Center,” said Liz Watrin, President of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico. “We strongly support translating scientific discovery into new and more effective treatments for breast cancer.”
As innovative therapies are developed, Dr. Prossnitz and colleagues hope to make them available to cancer patients in New Mexico through the rigorous clinical trial phase of research that is required of all new treatments. Melanie Royce, MD, PhD, a nationally known breast cancer specialist who directs the UNM Cancer Center’s multidisciplinary breast cancer program, said that BCBSNM’s support of Dr. Prossnitz’s research will help accelerate progress in finding effective new ways to treat New Mexico’s breast cancer patients.
“The UNM Cancer Center is committed to translating the work that goes on in our laboratories to our clinics and communities and back again for continued investigation,” said Dr. Royce. “We are thrilled to receive BCBSNM’s support for an extremely promising area of translational research at the Center.”
Breast Cancer in New Mexico
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among New Mexican women (excluding skin cancer), accounting for nearly one-third of women’s cancer cases in the state. Each year, approximately 1,100 New Mexican women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and another 220 die from the disease. The disease is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic, Native American and African American women in the state, and second only to lung cancer among non-Hispanic White women.
The UNM Cancer Center is taking important steps toward preventing, detecting, diagnosing, and treating breast cancer in New Mexico. Its Mobile Mammography Program, for example, provides screening mammograms to hundreds of underinsured and uninsured women in underserved rural areas of the state. Patients diagnosed and treated at the UNM Cancer Center benefit from world-class expertise and cutting-edge technology, including access to dozens of clinical trials for new breast cancer therapies. Cancer researchers at the Center are making discoveries that shed new light on how breast cancer develops and spreads, laying the groundwork for new and potentially more effective treatments for the disease.
Groundbreaking Discovery Promises New Treatments
In 2005, Dr. Prossnitz and collaborators at UNM and New Mexico State University (NMSU) made international headlines by characterizing a new type of estrogen receptor, known as GPR30. Estrogen plays a key role in breast cancer, and certain known types of estrogen receptors (proteins) in the cancer cell are key targets for existing anti-cancer drugs such as Tamoxifen. Because some breast cancers do not respond to these drugs, however, the existence of other kinds of estrogen receptors was hypothesized – but unproven. The UNM-NMSU team’s discovery of GPR30 action has been hailed as a breakthrough, not least because it provides a new target for cancer therapies.
Recently, the researchers have developed a molecular probe that has been shown in laboratory studies to successfully target GPR30 in breast cancer cells (as well as in certain other hormone-dependent cancers). Efforts to develop effective therapies based on these probes are now underway. The BCBSNM grant provides essential support for this initiative.
A Legacy of Support
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico has been a supporter of the UNM Cancer Center for more than a decade. In recent years, the company has provided support for the Center’s new
cancer research and clinical treatment facility, which opened to patients two years ago. The latest gift is the first time BCBSNM has specifically supported research at the UNM Cancer Center, a nationally recognized leader in cancer research and treatment.
About the UNM Cancer Center
The UNM Cancer Center is the official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center in the state. One of just 66 NCI-designated cancer centers nationwide, the UNM Cancer Center is recognized for its scientific excellence, contributions to cancer research and delivery of medical advances to patients and their families. It is home to 85 board-certified oncology physicians representing every cancer specialty and 127 research scientists hailing from prestigious institutions such as MD Anderson, Johns Hopkins, and the Mayo Clinic. The UNM Cancer Center treats more than 65 percent of the adults and virtually all of the children in New Mexico affected by cancer, from every county in the state. In 2010, it provided care to more than 15,800 cancer patients. The Center’s research programs are supported by nearly $60 million annually in federal and private funding.
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