Impact of Giving

These are the stories of the individuals and foundations who help advance Chicago medicine and science through their vision and philanthropy.

(from left) Funmi Olopade, MD, Michelle McBride, and Noreen Fraser

Donor Stories

Foundation Supports Breast Cancer Study

A rare yet highly aggressive form of breast cancer that disproportionately affects young women of African and African American ancestry is the focus of a groundbreaking, global study that will examine the genetics of breast cancer. The Noreen Fraser Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant to Olufunmilayo “Funmi” Olopade, MD, to focus on this condition known as triple negative breast cancer.

Nearly 15 percent of the estimated 200,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States this year alone will develop triple negative breast cancer. What differentiates triple negative from the more common type of breast cancer is the lack of three hormone receptors—estrogen, progesterone, and epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (known as HER2)—which typically fuel most breast cancer tumors.

Instrumental in identifying this understudied form of cancer is Olufunmilayo “Funmi” Olopade, MD, a renowned hematology oncologist at the University of Chicago Medical Center, who is leading the study with her team along with physicians from around the world.

“For too long and for too many years, we treated breast cancer as one disease and we thought one size fits all,” Olopade says. “But now, with genomic understanding, we’ll begin to detect why young women get breast cancer.”

Eradicating Women’s Cancers
The Noreen Fraser Foundation, an organization dedicated to eradicating women’s cancers by funding promising scientists whose research is focused on developing new targeted treatments, selected Olopade as its first recipient of the translational research grant. She also received a $1.5 million grant from the Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust in support of her research in this area.

“A better understanding of the biology of triple negative breast cancer is imperative so that we can find more advanced prevention and treatment options for this aggressive cancer,” says Noreen Fraser, founder and CEO of the Noreen Fraser Foundation. “My hope is that my daughter as well as all of our daughters won’t have to worry about this disease.”

While the survival rate for breast cancer patients has improved to more than 80 percent in most developed countries, it is still a death sentence in other parts of the world, says Olopade, the Walter L. Palmer Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics and Director of the Hematology/Oncology Fellowship Training Program. Each year, more than 1.4 million women develop breast cancer globally, but it is too early to determine how many women around the world will be diagnosed with triple negative.

“More women are dying from breast cancer than HIV/AIDS and yet when we talk about global health all we hear about is HIV,” Olopade says.

Doctors in the Dark
What is even more disturbing, Olopade continues, is that there are some doctors in Africa who have never treated someone with breast cancer. So patients are often misdiagnosed early on and preventive measures to treat the disease never reach the patient, or reach the patient too late.

“We happen to have a very unique population of women on the South Side of Chicago including Latino women, African American women, and young professional women who come to the city to start their career and are diagnosed with breast cancer,” Olopade says. By collecting blood samples and DNA from 4,000 breast cancer patients both locally and internationally as well as samples from individuals without the disease, Olopade’s team will be able to identify links that will hopefully lead to new treatments for triple negative breast cancer over the next two to five years.

“We want to know how tumors behave in different parts of the world,” Olopade says. “Collectively we can put our heads together to study this tumor and the genetic materials of patients and then develop targeted therapies that are going to be more effective, less toxic, and help eradicate breast cancer.”

For more information, contact Callie Johnston at   cjohnston@mcdmail.uchicago.edu.

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