Advancements in Breast Cancer Research:
Dr. Jill Bargonetti Talks with The BCA Campaign About the Work She’s Conducting in Honor of the Late Evelyn H. Lauder
Jill Bargonetti is a Professor of Biological Studies at The City University of New York Graduate Center and at Hunter College and Adjunct Professor, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Her team focuses on two of the most critical drivers of breast cancer; MDM2 and p53. Dr. Bargonetti and her colleagues are working to identify ways to target these critical proteins and stop cancer cells from replicating and spreading. Read her full article below to learn more about the groundbreaking research she’s conducting that’s funded by The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) through the support of The Estée Lauder Companies. In loving memory of BCRF Founder, Evelyn Lauder, The Estée Lauder Companies’ New York-area employees undertook several creative fundraising activities to establish this grant at Mrs. Lauder’s alma mater. Dr. Bargonetti has been a BCRF grantee since 2005, and her grant has been supported by ELC since 2008.
How long have you been in the field of research?
JB: “I’ve been interested in science since I was young. When I started taking genetics in high school and learned about blending inheritance, I felt that it spoke specifically to me and I wanted to understand more about how genes work, and what genes do. Today, through my work at the Hunter College Cornell Belfer Research Building, my team and I focus on breast cancer research, which is funded by the BCRF through the support of The Estée Lauder Companies.”
Do you have a personal connection to the disease?
JB: “Well, my personal connection to breast cancer begins with the fact that I’m a woman, so I’ve always been cognizant of the fact that I should be screened. But in particular, a very personal connection for me is because of Evelyn Lauder and her creation of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF). Evelyn was instrumental in my decision to become a breast cancer researcher. When she passed away, it became even more important for me to figure out how we can cure and treat this horrible disease.”
Evelyn was instrumental in my decision to become a breast cancer researcher. When she passed away, it became even more important for me to figure out how we can cure and treat this horrible disease.
How has your connection impacted your work and feelings towards doing what you do?
JB: “The work that Evelyn started through The BCA Campaign really has helped to make people unafraid to talk about breast cancer and to talk about all of the pieces that go along with understanding more about the disease. With particular focus on what I do, it really has a lot to do with the genetics and the changes that happen in cells that causes them to become cancerous, to become metastatic, to grow out of control and spread to organs they shouldn’t be in.”
In your opinion, how aware are women about breast cancer and what things to watch out for?
JB: “I think women are very aware of breast cancer, and I think that’s in part because of The BCA Campaign. But, while people are aware of breast cancer in some genes like BRCA and BRCA1, they are not aware of all these other genes that are associated with breast cancer, which is what my team focuses on.”
This year’s Campaign is centered around the idea of togetherness. Do you collaborate with other colleagues? If so, what does that mean to you and your work?
JB: “Real cutting edge research requires collaboration across many different disciplines. Transdisciplinary research is the way of the future. In fact, we’re really in it. We’re in a genetic and genomic revolution. But, understanding genetics is a big task because there’s a lot of information that is housed in our genome. In order to be able to understand that information, you need many different types of researchers. In my particular field, we do a lot of biochemistry and molecular biology, basic research that takes the molecules out of cells. But I collaborate with bioinformatics experts and also chemists who design particular diagnostic tools.”
How do you feel that this idea of togetherness is going to ultimately help us cure cancer?
JB: “I believe it will help us cure cancer by bringing together many different populations, by bringing together researchers, by bring together the next generation of teams of researchers. That research crosses into populations, so you need to also have what’s called community participatory research. Going out into the community, getting people involved, is crucial. Without patients and the community, you can’t get what you need to conduct research.”
How far do you think we are from a cure? What are the most valuable assets moving forward to help us get to that point?
JB: “We’re getting closer to curing breast cancers, but that comes with the understanding of each particular subtype and the problems that each individual has for their particular breast cancer so we can treat the cancers in such a way that the patients can be the same person after the treatment as they were before it.
We’re good at treating estrogen-receptor positive breast cancers. We’re getting closer at how we can treat triple negative breast cancers. So, the closer we get to understanding the genetics of each individual cancer, the better we are at treating cancers in general.”
What are the needs moving forward to continue doing what you’re doing?
JB: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be a BCRF grantee since 2005, and my grant has been supported by ELC since 2008. As a result, my research has been focused on two particular molecules (MDM2 and Mutant p53) and I think it’s really important that the public understand that there are many genes that drive breast cancer, and these two in particular are major drivers.”