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Wing of Karen, a non-profit breast cancer foundation supporting research in the Pacific NW, benefiting women everywhere, came to UW Medicine’s Research Campus on Thursday, December 19 to award $200,000 to this year’s Wings of Karen Grantees, UW Medicine breast cancer researchers, Drs. Mary-Claire King and Mary (Nora) Disis.


One $100,000 donation from Wings of Karen will support a new study in whole genome sequencing for high-risk breast cancer families, led by Mary-Claire King, PhD, American Cancer Society Professor, Department of Medicine and Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington.  The discoveries of BRCA1 and BRCA2 have changed breast cancer prevention and treatment in ways that were unimaginable almost 40 years ago when Dr. King began her career in this field. It is now possible for women to learn if they carry cancer-predisposing mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, and if so, to take steps to prevent breast and ovarian cancer. Furthermore, for the many women whose mothers or sisters carried such mutations and died of breast cancer, but do not carry the mutation themselves, genetic knowledge brings tremendous relief.  However, sometimes a family severely affected with breast cancer carries no mutation in BRCA1, BRCA2, or any of the known breast cancer genes.


Thanks to Wings of Karen funding, the King Lab will carry out whole genome sequencing of DNA from 10 breast cancer patients, using DNA obtained from a small amount of blood. Participants in the study will be women who developed breast cancer at a young age and in families with at least three affected women in all.  The goal is to reveal unknown mutations in the non-coding regions of the genome. If successful, results will allow breast and ovarian cancer preventive measures to be taken by women in families for whom the genes causing breast cancer are currently unknown. A new gene identified in one family can easily be tested in many other families. This project has the potential to improve patient care in the next few years by yielding a more comprehensive genomic profile of breast cancer predisposition.


The second $100,000 donation will support the manufacture of the Wings of Karen Breast Cancer Vaccine (WOKVAC).  Most cancers are caused by early genetic alterations that, once developed, initiate a cascade of mutations resulting in malignant cancers. Often, these cancers develop the potential to metastasize or spread. Recent scientific and technological advances, however, have made the development of cancer prevention vaccines for these cancers not only probable, but possible. UW Medicine’s Tumor Vaccine Group, led by Mary L. (Nora) Disis, M.D. Athena Distinguished Professorship of Breast Cancer Research, UW Professor of Medicine, Division of Oncology and Associate Dean for Translational Science at UW Medicine, is part of this solution.




Wings of Karen Check Supports UW Medicine Researchers:
Mary-Claire King, Ph.D. and Nora Disis, M.D.

Vaccination targeting immunogenic proteins expressed by pre-invasive or proliferative breast lesions offers a unique approach to breast cancer prevention. UW Medicine’s Tumor Vaccine Group have been leading research in breast cancer vaccines for years. Vaccines can elicit memory T-cells that remain in lymph nodes until exposed to the target antigen.  After stimulation, T-cells migrate to the site of antigen expressing lesions regardless of location and will proliferate and destroy those lesions.  If successful, a prophylactic breast cancer vaccine could eradicate high risk and pre-invasive breast tumors before progression to invasive cancer.  HER-2/neu (HER2), insulin like growth factor receptor-1 (IGF-IR), and insulin like growth factor binding protein 2 (IGFBP-2) are over-expressed in multiple types of breast cancer and are associated with a poorer prognosis.  All three proteins are up regulated in high risk and pre-invasive breast lesions and expression of each is associated with increased risk of developing invasive breast cancer.  In fact, these three proteins provide broad antigen coverage to both ER+ and ER- pre-invasive high risk breast disease.  A vaccine targeting these three antigens, called the Wings of Karen Vaccine (WOKVAC), could be useful in both preventing disease relapse in patients treated for breast cancer as well as potentially preventing the development of breast cancer.

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