Nearly $4 million in private funds for cancer research

With the 2017/2018 grants, ICRF funding has now reached 2,348 grants totaling $63,866,500 since its inception.

October 14, 2017 23:26
Doctor holding syringe

Close up of female doctor holding syringe with injection (iilustrative). (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

In its efforts to eradicate cancer, the Israel Cancer Research Fund has announced 70 new grants totaling $3,934,500 for the 2017/2018 funding year. The grants were announced recently at the Barbara Goodman Annual Scientific Awards evening at the Museum of the City of New York.

The ICRF’s mission is to harness Israel’s scientific talent to find a cure for cancer. It is the largest single source of private funds for cancer research in Israel.

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With the 2017/2018 grants, ICRF funding has now reached 2,348 grants totaling $63,866,500 since its inception.

Among the areas of cancer research directly sponsored by ICRF, which is based in New York City, in 2016/2017 were studies in bone, brain, breast, colorectal, head and pancreatic, prostate and skin cancers; anticancer drug mechanisms, drug resistance and targeted therapy; development of new diagnostic imaging techniques; blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, and tumor blood vessel growth (angiogenesis); cancer stem cells and cellular reprogramming; expression, regulation and mutation of genes; tumor viruses; tumor metastasis; inflammation and cancer; immunology and immunotherapy; protein interactions; oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, such as p53; and cell-cycle regulation and the tumor microenvironment, programmed cell death (apoptosis), and the DNA damage response.

ICRF grantees have earned distinguished honors including the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the G.H.A.

Clowes Award from the American Association for Cancer Research, the Gairdner International award, the Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research and the Israel Prize. ICRF-funded research has helped lead to the development of life-saving drugs such as Gleevec, Doxil and Velcade; the discovery of the location and chemical nature of the p53 tumor-suppressor gene; and the identification of the “Philadelphia Chromosome,” the first abnormal chromosome found in leukemia.

ICRF grants are chosen by a 26-member scientific review panel composed of world-renowned scientists from the US and Canada, who make recommendations to the ICRF board after an intense peer review.

The panel bases its selection criteria on the scientific merit of the project, demonstrated ability of the investigators and suitability of the institutions in which they work.

Kenneth Goodman, the ICRF’s chairman emeritus, sponsors the annual awards and donor recognition evening, which is named in memory of his wife, Barbara Goodman, who lost her battle to pancreatic cancer at the age of 51.

“We are honored to pay tribute to the contributors to ICRF who actually partner with these brilliant Israeli scientists and enable them to carry on their life-saving work,’’ said ICRF president Rob Densen.

The rate of discovery in cancer research is accelerating, and nowhere more than in Israel. As a result of our careful review process, we have provided funding to propel the careers of some of the world’s leading cancer researchers, including Prof. Howard Cedar and Nobel Prize-winning scientists Profs. Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover.”

BELLY FAT IN WOMEN RAISES BREAST CANCER RISK Obese women with large bellies may be at risk of developing a different subtype of breast cancer than those with widespread fat accumulation, according to a new study published in The Oncologist. This suggests that the link between breast cancer and obesity may be more complex than previously thought.

The study on women from northern and eastern China found that women who accumulated fat around their internal organs (visceral), measured by belly fat, were predisposed to develop a different subtype of breast cancer than those that accumulated fat more widely around their thighs, hips and buttocks (subcutaneous). The team also found that being obese before menopause raised breast cancer risk in these women, confirming a known difference between Asian, black and white women.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in China and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Obesity is a well-known risk factor, which can be partly mitigated by lifestyle changes and the use of drugs like Tamoxifen in high-risk women. However, long-term drug use has side effects, and Tamoxifen only works for women whose breast cancer cells possess receptors for the hormone estrogen on their surface (ER+).

“It was believed that obesity was more strongly related to ER+ than ER- breast cancer,” explained corresponding author Zhigang Yu at the Second Hospital of Shandong University. Based on previous studies, Yu and his colleagues suspected that women’s risk of developing ER+ or ER- breast cancer varied with how fat was distributed throughout their body.

To test this theory, they recruited 1,316 Han Chinese women aged between 25 and 70 from 21 hospitals in Northern and Eastern China who were newly diagnosed with breast cancer. They took body measurements and collected data on their reproductive and medical history, including whether they had been diagnosed with ER+ or ER- breast cancer.

The women were compared with a control group of healthy in-patients attending the hospitals for a physical examination.

Yu and his colleagues found that women with a high body-mass index (BMI), providing a measure of subcutaneous fat, were more likely to have ER+ breast cancers, especially if they were premenopausal. In contrast, women with a high waist-hip ratio, providing a measure of visceral fat, were more likely to have ER- breast cancer, especially if they had passed the menopause. This greater risk of developing ER- breast cancer for women with a high WHR held even if they didn’t have a high BMI.

“A possible reason is that subcutaneous fat is involved in estrogen production, which may promote ER+ breast cancer,” says Yu. “Visceral fat is more closely related to insulin resistance and may be more likely to promote ER- breast cancer.”

Based on their findings, Yu and his colleagues advise clinicians to evaluate ER+ breast cancer risk in obese women before prescribing Tamoxifen.

“Considering that Tamoxifen cannot prevent ERbreast cancer, women with high WHRs may not benefit,” said Yu. “More interestingly, it is the different patterns of fat distribution, visceral fat and subcutaneous fat, that may contribute to the distinct effects of obesity type. This speculation provides a novel perspective for further study as to the interaction between obesity and breast cancer.”

He also recommends more research into the effect of other breast cancer risk factors, such as insulin resistance and inflammation, in obese women, as well as the development of tools for predicting which highrisk women may develop ER+ and ER- breast cancers.

Breast cancer is today becoming pandemic and, contrary to conventional wisdom, the global obesity epidemic is not restricted to industrialized societies.

In developing countries like China, the combination of breast cancer and obesity can provoke severe health and economic consequences.

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