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OHSU Breast Cancer Researcher Receives $275,000 Grant from Avon Foundation for Women

SuEllen Pommier, Ph.D., will study the genetic defects that change normal breast stem cells into breast cancer stem cells.

Oregon consistently ranks in the top five states in the nation for breast cancer incidence. But researchers at OHSU are working to change that with a study that could have an impact on women around the world. Thanks to a $275,000 grant from the Avon Foundation for Women, SuEllen Pommier, Ph.D., research associate professor, and her team will advance promising research into what causes a normal breast stem cell to turn into a breast cancer stem cell.

“I am grateful that the Avon Foundation for Women has provided this funding,” said Dr. Pommier. “We are so close to understanding the causes of breast cancer. This grant could have far-reaching benefits.”

Recent research has shown that breast cancer begins from a normal breast stem cell that becomes damaged through DNA mutations. The cancers that develop contain defective stem cells. Dr. Pommier’s research could prevent breast cancer altogether by providing the means to identify its causes.

For the study, Dr. Pommier and her team will sample breast cancer tissue donated from women who are undergoing an operation to remove breast cancer. Normal breast tissue will be obtained from women undergoing an operation to reduce the size of their breasts. The tissues will be compared in the laboratory to examine genes in the stem cells that are known to be involved in normal cell behavior and in cancer. By compiling genetic profiles for normal and cancer breast stem cells, Dr. Pommier will create an enormous amount of data that will help identify cancer-causing agents.

The OHSU Foundation is a separate 501(c)(3) organization that exists to secure private philanthropic support for Oregon Health & Science University. The foundation raises funds from individuals, companies, foundations and organizations, and invests and manages gifts in accordance with donors’ wishes.

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