Emory Report

March 20, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 25

Avon gives $2 million to fight breast cancer

By Susan Riordan

Breast cancer research at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute and Grady Hospital will benefit from a $2.2 million gift from the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, announced March 7 in New York.

The institute was selected as one of five leading national cancer centers to receive funds from Avon. The gifts to the five cancer centers, plus grants to Cancer Care in New York and the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund in Washington, total nearly $14 million, considered the largest single corporate gift in history to the breast cancer cause.

"The Avon gift is going to allow Emory to take the expertise of young scientists already doing breast cancer research and accelerate our ability to do high-impact research toward earlier detection, prevention and novel treatment in Grady's underserved breast cancer population," said recently named Winship Director Jonathan Simons, the principal investigator for the Avon grant. "In this way, we will be able to take the latest findings and apply them to a group of people who historically have been last to benefit from medical research advances."

The other cancer centers awarded Avon Crusade gifts include: the Irving Compre-hensive Cancer Center Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center (New York); University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center; the Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University (Chicago); and the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of California at Irvine Medical Center.

The funds for the Avon gift were raised in part by the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day, a series of three-day, 60-mile fundraising walks, each with some 2,000 participants. This year Avon 3-Day walks will be held in seven cities across the country, including Atlanta from Sept. 22­24. In addition, funds were raised through the sale of Avon Crusade Pink Ribbon fundraising products by independent Avon sales representatives.

At Emory in the Winship Cancer Institute, the Avon money will primarily fund breast cancer genomics research--the identification of genes that make breast cancer arise and spread--and much of the research will be conducted by clinical and research faculty at Grady.

"This is tremendously exciting for Emory for at least three reasons: First, the science is some of the most promising I've seen," said Thomas Lawley, dean of the School of Medicine, of which the Winship Cancer Institute is part. "Second, the decision by Dr. Simons and Avon to focus a large part of this generous grant at Grady Memorial Hospital begins yet another chapter in Emory's partnership with Grady and our deep commitment to the hospital and the community it serves. Patients at Grady will be among the first to benefit from the breast cancer research funded by this generous gift.

"And third, this grant, arriving at Emory only weeks after Dr. Simons' arrival, further confirms our belief that he is the right scientist and leader to help make Emory one of the nation's top centers for cancer care, research, prevention and education."

Grant researchers will look into the genetics of the aggressive cancers that have been shown to be more prevalent in women of color. Using the new research tools of genomics, they hope to find clues on why African American women can have more clinically aggressive cancers.

1999 American Cancer Society statistics show that, once diagnosed, African American women have a higher likelihood of dying from breast cancer than any other U.S. ethnic or socioeconomic group, but their incidence of breast cancer is actually less than white women. Research has shown the reason for the higher death rate in African American women may be partly due to interactions with the environment, diet and certain genes involved in cancer initiation.

A significant portion of the grant money will also be used to attract and fund career development of young women physician/scientists entering breast cancer research in surgical oncology, pathology, medical oncology and molecular genetics as part of the Avon Scholars program created at Emory.

Ruby Kochhar, a Winship medical oncologist who practices primarily at Grady, is Emory's first Avon Scholar. She graduated from Maulana Azad Medical College at the University of Delhi, India, and received her residency training at the Medical Center of Delaware in Newark and Stony Brook Teaching Hospitals in Stony Brook, N.Y.

"This is very exciting because our research not only will affect breast cancer patients but cancer patients as a whole," Kochhar said. "And breast cancer not only occurs in women-men do have a little bit of breast tissue in which cancer can develop. But I think whatever information we learn will be applicable to other cancers. I hope it will."

"This major gift to the breast cancer cause exemplifies Avon's mission to be the company for women," said Patricia Sterling, senior manager of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade. "We are proud to partner with Emory and the other beneficiaries to seek the possible causes, prevention, treatment and cure of breast cancer, and to reach out to women who might otherwise not receive proper medical care for this disease."

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