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The Mary Kay Foundation began awarding research grants in 1997. We’re proud to show you how our grant recipients are achieving great progress in the search for new treatments for cancers affecting women.

Study finds N-Ras gene promotes breast cancer

In a study partially funded by The Mary Kay FoundationSM, researchers found a link between the gene N-Ras and an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Traditionally, the gene N-Ras has been defined as a cancer causer only when it is mutated, but researchers led by those at Baylor College of Medicine say that is not always the case.

In the journal Cell Reports, Dr. Eric Chang, associate professor at the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor, reports that N-Ras more highly expressed in basal-like breast cancer than in other breast cancer subtypes. The overexpressed N-Ras promotes transformation in normal cells, as well as progression of an early stage of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).


Look what our grants are doing!

Understanding Breast Cancer Cells

Penn State College of Medicine researchers, including Dr. Edward Gunter, 2010 recipient of a Mary Kay Foundation research grant, are using grants from The Mary Kay Foundation to understand how different breast cancer cells communicate with each other to cause tumor growth.

When researchers prevented the cells from signaling each other, the cancer growth stopped. However, they sometimes found the cells evolved to find a different way to communicate with each other or they evolved to not need cooperation any longer.

Research could lead to effective ways to block communication between the cells to slow cancer growth or create novel treatment options.



Cancer Drugs More Effective When Estrogen is Low

UCLA researchers have shown for the first time that lowering estrogen while treating endometrial cancers could make tumors more sensitive to a new class of drugs known as PARP inhibitors.

These findings could lead to a novel one-two punch therapy to fight endometrial cancers and provide an alternative to conventional treatments, which have limited success in advanced cases.

Senior study author Dr. Sanaz Memarzadeh, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the G.O. Discovery Lab at UCLA, explains the research process.

"A PARP inhibitor was given orally in two hormonal extremes — high and low estrogen," Memarzadeh said. "The treatment achieved a significant reduction in tumor size in a low estrogenic milieu. In striking contrast, no response to the inhibitor was seen in tumors exposed to high levels of estrogen."

For more news and the complete press release, visit the UCLA Newsroom.


Testing First Vaccine for Ovarian Cancer

Clinical trials are in the works for a new vaccine to treat ovarian cancer patients, thanks to a grant funded by the Mary Kay FoundationSM.

"This will be the first of this type of vaccine tested in humans," said researcher Martin Cannon, Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The clinical trial will be a three-way collaboration between the University of Arkansas, the Mayo Clinic and the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute in Port St. Lucie, Florida.


Research Points to New Cancer Treatments

Just as people can become addicted to drugs or alcohol, their cancers can become addicted to certain genes that help them grow.

Through a grant partially funded by the MKF, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School have developed ways to break the addictions of cancers without harming normal tissue.

In the future, this could lead to new treatments for cancer without many of the side effects of traditional chemotherapies according to Dr. Thomas Westbrook, senior author of the report.

The findings in this report have particular importance for an aggressive form of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer, which has no effective treatment right now. Find all the details at Breaking oncogene's hold on cancer cell provides new treatment.


New Findings on Hereditary Breast Cancer

Working with human breast cells, researchers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have shown how inactivating the breast cancer gene BRCA1 leaves breast cells vulnerable to cancer.

The new cell model may help to develop drugs that will prevent hereditary breast cancer and to identify women who benefit most from these treatments. Some anti-cancer drugs are already in clinical trials against tumors with BRCA1 mutations.

Women born with a mutated BRCA1 gene have a 50 to 90 percent chance of developing breast cancer sometime during their lives. They also have high risks of ovarian and other cancers.

You can read more about this study funded by the Mary Kay Foundation at Scientists Show How BRCA1 Cancer Gene Mutations Harm Breast Cells.


Hannah Linden, M.D.

Researchers at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) have confirmed which drugs can help breast cancer patients the most, thanks to a grant from the Mary Kay Foundation.

According to the study, estrogen-blocking drugs like tamoxifen and fulvestrant are more effective than estrogen-depleting therapies such as aromatase inhibitors. The study also found that tamoxifen is more effective than fulvestrant.

The results indicate that estrogen must be blocked completely to get a good outcome for the patient, said Hannah Linden, M.D., a breast oncologist at SCCA and an associate professor of Medicine at the University of Washington's School of Medicine. Linden said the results were expected but had never been proven before.

For the entire article, visit http://www.eurekalert.org.


Peter Zhou, M.D., Ph.D.

A grant from The Mary Kay Foundation helped University of Kentucky scientists to identify one way breast cancer cells metastasize (or spread) to other parts of the body. This finding opens new avenues in developing treatments for metastatic tumor cells, which cause about 90 percent of breast cancer deaths. Previous research studies have confirmed that a protein called Snail promotes tumor cell migration. High levels of Snail have been linked to many cancers especially breast cancer.

In this research, scientists found that Snail teams up with an enzyme inside the cell called LSD1, which changes DNA structure and shuts down many genes. "This finding has significant clinical ramification, because chemical compounds or agents that can disrupt the interaction of Snail with LSD1 will have a great potential in developing drugs that can treat metastatic breast cancer," said researcher Peter Zhou.


Kevin A. Janes, Ph.D.

Announced in the 2010 Nature America and the April 2010 issue of Nature Methods, thanks to The Mary Kay Foundation(sm) grant, University of Virginia researcher Kevin Janes used a technique called stochastic profiling to see differences in the ways cells behave even though the cells may look similar. Cancer cells and normal cells have the same genes yet these genes can express themselves in different ways. Stochastic profiling lets researchers identify changes in the way a gene expresses itself by looking at a group of cells instead of analyzing individual cells. Genetic science breakthroughs like this make a cure for cancer one step closer.


Dr. David Kurnit

An article posted July 14, 2009, by Medical News Today, highlighted a study partially funded by The Mary Kay Foundation that showed new testing methods may help lead to early detection of cervical cancer. As reported in the article, researchers found that SEQUENOM’s MassARRAY technology identified the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) in the cervix missed by standard hybridization tests. The discovery team was led by Dr. David Kurnit, a 2006 cancer research grant recipient at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

The study results showed that “as many as 15% of women in the study group determined to be negative for the presence of HPV in the cervix, via the most commonly used test for HPV DNA, may actually be infected with the virus at clinically relevant viral loads.” To read the complete article, go to: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/157334.php


Dr. Shiladitya Sengupta

In an article posted April 23, 2009, by EmaxHealth, highlighted a study partially funded by The Mary Kay Foundation through a 2007 grant to Dr. Shiladitya Sengupta. According to EmaxHealth, "An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology has demonstrated a better way to deliver cancer drugs directly to tumors by using specially engineered nanoparticles that can inhibit a signaling pathway and deliver a higher concentration of medication to the specific area."  To read the article in its entirety, go to: http://www.emaxhealth.com/2/51/30590/delivering-cancer-drugs-directly-tumors.html


Dr. James DiRenzo

The Jan. 15, 2007, issue of Cancer Research reported that a study funded in part by the Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation produced a cancer research breakthrough. Led by Dr. James DiRenzo, a 2005 grant recipient, researchers linked nestin, a structural protein, to a form of breast cancer. These findings could lead to earlier detection and better treatment. Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School found that nestin could represent a selective biological marker for basal epithelial breast tumors, a highly aggressive cancer.


Dr. Lin Zhang

Dr. Lin Zhang of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and a 2007 recipient of a Foundation Cancer Grant has centered his research on the function of microRNA in ovarian cancer. Because of the progress he has made with his research, his findings and results have been featured in five medical publications. He has generated the very first piece of evidence that miRNA exhibits high frequency genomic alterations and its expression is remarkably deregulated in ovarian cancer, strongly suggesting that miRNAs are involved in the initiation and progression of this disease. Indeed, his preliminary studies have identified that several miRNAs may serve as tumor suppressor genes or oncogenes in ovarian cancer. Current rapid advances in oligonucleotide/nanoparticle therapy create realistic optimism for the establishment of miRNAs as a new and potent therapeutic target and/or chemoresistant modulator in ovarian cancer.


Dipali Sharma, Ph.D.

Emory University researcher Dipali Sharma, Ph.D. received a grant in 2007 to investigate the role leptin plays in the formation and growth of breast cancer. Leptin is a hormone that has a central role in fat metabolism. Leptin affects cancers such as those of the colon and endothelial tissue, but it plays a significant role in the development of breast cancer because breast tissue is mostly fat. The grant will help Dr. Sharma further study the link between leptin and breast cancer on her quest to find new treatments.


Dr. Richard Schlegel

Dr. Richard Schlegel with Georgetown University Medical School, a 2004 cancer grant recipient, centered his research around developing a topical drug treatment for early cervical cancer. His findings indicated that DHA, an anti-malarial compound, and other artemisinin derivatives may be used for the topical treatment of epithelial papillomavirus lesions, including those that have progressed to the neoplastic state. Georgetown has cofounded a small biotechnology company to evaluate this drug. The company, Frantz Viral Therapeutics, is currently performing confirmatory studies.

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Mary Kay Inc. is the major corporate sponsor of The Mary Kay Foundation. Because of the Company’s generous support, more than 97 percent of dollars donated by supporters like you can go directly to programs and research. Less than three percent goes to administrative and overhead costs.
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