Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, and––excluding skin cancers––is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in the United States. There are approximately 4,400 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year in Indiana. IU School of Medicine researchers, through the IU Precision Health Initiative, have chosen to focus on a specific type of breast cancer called triple negative because, compared to other types of breast cancer, it is more aggressive and does not yet have a targeted therapy to reduce recurrence.
The initiative’s triple negative breast cancer research team wrapped up its first Phase II clinical trial, which was funded by the Vera Bradley Foundation. The trial, called BRE 12-158, compared precision-guided therapy versus the current standard of care. Through the study, they discovered that the presence of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the plasma of women’s blood who have undergone chemotherapy prior to surgery for the treatment of stage 1, 2 or 3 triple negative breast cancer are critical indicators for the prediction of disease recurrence and disease-free survival. Their findings were published in an international peer-reviewed journal. By raising awareness through social media, the team doubled its patient enrollment rate and shaved two years off the clinical trial timeline, potentially speeding the time for the treatments to reach more patients.