This year’s Annual BCRF Symposium focused on “Progress in Killing Drug Resistant Cancer Cells” and featured panelists Dr. Joan Brugge of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Suzanne Fuqua of Baylor College of Medicine and Dr. Vered Stearns of Johns Hopkins. BCRF Scientific Director Dr. Larry Norton and BCRF Scientific Advisory Chairman Dr. Clifford Hudis, both of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, moderated the panel.

Here are three main takeaways from the discussion:

What is drug resistance?
Drug resistance is a complex issue that is driven not only by the unique biology and genetic makeup of the tumor, but also by interactions between tumor cells and healthy “normal” cells within the body. Tumor cells interact with many different types of normal cells, including fat cells, immune cells and blood cells that influence the tumor’s behavior and response to therapy.

Is metastasis — the spread of cancer– related to drug resistance?
Many of the same molecules and pathways that lead to drug resistance are also involved in metastasis. Scientists have uncovered various pieces of the puzzle and they include gene mutations that allow tumor cells to adapt to drugs and, at the same time, invade local tissue and spread to different parts of the body. Scientists are now making discoveries to bring clarity to how the puzzle pieces fit together, in order improve treatments for patients living with metastatic disease today and to prevent metastasis from occurring.

What are BCRF researchers doing to identify drug-resistant cells?
Scientist are applying new technologies such as genomics, bioinformatics, “liquid biopsies”– using patients’ blood to detect tumor cells and monitor treatment response– as well as innovative model systems as tools to better understand the causes of drug resistance and to develop combination therapies to prevent drug resistance and ultimately metastasis. Immunotherapy, including vaccine development, is in its infancy in breast cancer, but some trials are underway, allowing scientists to make progress towards learning how to tailor this and other approaches to improve breast cancer outcomes.

Watch the panelists discuss the topic in this short video.

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