Friends of the Graham Cancer Center learn about new diagnostic blood test for invasive breast cancers

The Friends of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute and community guests were among the first to hear about a novel diagnostic blood test developed by translational scientists at Christiana Care Health System to detect invasive breast cancers that are hard to detect with mammography alone. The blood test also shows promise for monitoring the recurrence of cancer, and the spread of cancer known as metastasis.

That research is being led by Jennifer Sims-Mourtada, Ph.D., Christiana Care’s director of Translational Breast Cancer Research, who presented at the Friends’ annual Spring Tea. She explained that scientists are able to distinguish between benign and invasive cancers by studying the changes in gene regulation that control how the immune system reacts to normal tissue.

Jennifer Sims-Mourtada, Ph.D., director of Translational Breast Cancer Research at the Graham Cancer Center, is developing a novel diagnostic blood test to help detect hard-to-find breast cancers.

“By giving physicians more information, this blood test is a companion to mammography that offers so much promise to deliver a real clinical impact within just a few years,”  Dr. Sims-Mourtada said.

Delaware is no longer one of the top 10 states for rate of cancer mortality, but the state continues to have the nation’s highest incidence of invasive triple-negative breast cancers, especially among African-American women, she said. These triple-negative cancers are difficult to detect by mammography, tend to be diagnosed later and are resistant to targeted therapies. Her research on the immune system seeks to determine why Delaware ranks so high for triple-negative breast cancers and to develop targeted therapies.

Early identification of recurrent disease requires a very sensitive mechanism for detection — one Dr. Sims-Mourtada found in partnership with Adam Marsh, Ph.D., of the University of Delaware, who is founder of Genome Profiling, a startup company located in the Center for Translational Cancer Research at the Graham Cancer Center. The two hope their blood diagnostic will provide a way to monitor women over time for metastasis and may also be useful for studying the immune pattern of ovarian cancer. They plan to finalize the patent for the diagnostic for broader testing by summer 2018.

“Dr. Sims-Mourtada and her team have established a breast center of excellence that merges the collective energies of scientists, clinicians and a Community Research Advisory Board to promote evidence-based breast cancer research, improve lives of breast cancer patients and change the trajectory of breast cancer outcomes in Delaware and beyond,” said Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute.

Carroll M. Carpenter founded the Friends of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute in 2002. Since its inception, more than 60 volunteers have raised $2.3 million to support the cancer center’s work.

“The promise of this cutting-edge research gives us hope for our children,” said Friends Chair Lois Galinat, who hosted the Spring Tea with co-chairs Elisa Morris, Diane du Pont, Katie O’Dell-Shreve and Dana Nestor.

O’Dell-Shreve and tablemates Kim Alberta, who recently joined the Friends in January, and Sally Oberle of the Delaware Ovarian Cancer Foundation, said they were in awe of Dr. Sims-Mourtada’s research. “The collaboration of all of the different specialties working together, the growth and strides that have been made and the interdisciplinary sharing of information are amazing, and it is all right here at Christiana Care,” O’Dell-Shreve said. “What we are hearing makes us very hopeful.”

007-themed Celebration of Hope to help support cancer research

Since 2002, the Friends have raised $2.3 million for the cancer center and hope to add significantly to that number with their upcoming Celebration of Hope gala scheduled for Oct. 7 at Longwood Gardens. Proceeds from this James Bond themed event (Agent 007, a nod to the 10-07 event date) will support Dr. Sims-Mourtada’s pioneering breast cancer research. The Friends will also honor Marcia and Morton Kimmel at the October 2017 gala for their generous support of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute.

“Philanthropic support allows us to build a foundation of research that makes us competitive with larger academic medical centers,” said Dr. Sims-Mourtada. “Having research located not in a large, academic center, but within the community as we do here at a community cancer center, represents a new model for translational cancer research where scientists interact directly with the medical oncologists and surgeons who take care of the patients. The Friends’ generous support will help make sure our collaborative research continues, even in times when federal research dollars are limited.”

For more information on sponsoring or attending the Celebration of Hope, visit