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MBCN Selects University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s Dr. Steffi Oesterreich as a 2017 recipient of a $100,000 Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Leadership Award

Dr. Steffi Oesterreich is a 2017 recipient of a $100,000 Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Leadership Award

Dr. Steffi Oesterreich is a 2017 recipient of a $100,000 Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Leadership Award



Patient-Led Advocate Group Selects University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Dr. Steffi Oesterreich as a 2017 recipient of a $100,000 Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Leadership Award



Breast cancer comes in several types that grow and respond to medicines differently. All breast cancers start in the tissues of the breast.  Ductal breast cancers begin by growing in a mass inside the ducts of the breast—the passageways that carry milk from to the nipple. Ductal cancers can later spread through the wall of the ducts into the fat and fibrous tissue of the breast.  When a ductal cancer travels through the wall, it causes a fibrous tissue reaction around itself, forming a scar that leads to a well-defined mass. In contrast, lobular breast cancers begin in the lobules of the breast where breast milk is produced.  Lobular breast cancers do not form a mass, but instead present as single files of uniform small, round, non-cohesive cells, making them harder to find on normal scans.



Invasive lobular breast cancer (ILBC) accounts for 10 to 15% of all breast cancers and for decades, little distinction has been made between ductal and lobular breast cancers in the clinic.  In 2015, a group of pathologists published a landmark paper establishing ILBC as a distinct subtype of invasive breast cancer with multiple genomic alterations and unique etiological, biological and clinical differences from invasive ductal carcinoma.


Dr. Steffi Oesterreich, a scientist at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, states that in the metastatic setting, ILBC can result in unique sites of metastases, such as the ovary, peritoneum and the gastrointestinal (GI) and urogenital tract. Currently, available data is sparse and fragmented, and numbers of cases are likely an underestimate since many registries do not include details on these more rare sites.  Importantly, there is a striking lack of molecular studies of such metastases.


Proposed Research

To address some of these real challenges, Dr. Steffi Oesterreich proposes to collect metastatic tissue from the ovary, peritoneum, and the GI tract from patients with metastatic ILBC. If available, she will also collect samples of primary tumor tissues from these patients.  Working with collaborating physicians, detailed clinical information from patients will be gathered. All of the samples will be sequenced, with the goal to identify drivers of metastases. Overexpression of candidate genes and enriched pathways will be confirmed.  In subsequent studies, Dr. Oesterreich will use model systems in her lab to target the candidate genes and pathways, using si/shRNA, and where available, small molecule inhibitors will be used to determine whether blocking the identified pathways can inhibit metastatic behavior of the invasive lobular breast cancer cells.


MBCN Response

The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network has chosen to support the goals of Dr. Oesterreich to molecularly define and understand ILBC as a distinct subtype of metastatic breast cancer. This is an understudied area in metastatic breast cancer and research needs to be accelerated. As research identifies unique characteristics of metastatic lobular breast cancer, MBCN believes the results will have implications for patient follow-up and treatment in the clinic. Therefore MBCN awards Dr. Oesterreich a $100,000 Research Leadership Award to support her research efforts through 2018.


MBCN looks forward to periodic research updates from Dr. Oesterreich and these will be shared with our metastatic breast cancer community.


We want to acknowledge and thank individuals and private corporations that have made contributions to MBCN in memory of loved ones and friends whose lives were cut short by metastatic breast cancer.  Because of the generosity of family, friends, and work colleagues, this Leadership Award was possible.



Do You Want to Assist in This Research?

If you are a metastatic breast cancer patient and are not certain if you have ductal or lobular metastatic breast cancer or both, ask your doctor.  The answer is most likely found in your pathology reports.  If you know you have lobular breast cancer and you want to contribute an archived sample of your tissue to this important research, please send an email to Dr. Oesterreich at oesterreichs@upmc.edu.  You are also welcome to send questions about the donation of tissue to Shirley Mertz, President of MBCN, at shirley.a.mertz@gmail.com.