A $300,000 two-year grant from the Avon Foundation for Women will help researchers in the NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine determine how breast cancer cells spread from the breast and target the brain.

"This a very serious, and most fatal aspect of breast cancer. Presently, we cannot cure it," said Dr. Dario Marchetti, professor of pathology and immunology at BCM, and the principal investigator of the project.

Seeds of cancer metastasis

Marchetti directs a core laboratory at BCM devoted to studying circulating tumor cells or "the seeds of cancer metastasis, the cells that shed from the primary tumor and have the ability to travel to other parts of the body and spread to other organs," he said.

"The objective of this study is to detect, visualize and characterize molecular signatures of those circulating tumors cells that target the brain," said Marchetti.

Marchetti and his research team will compare blood samples from breast cancer patients whose tumors have spread to the brain with samples from breast cancer patients whose tumors have not spread or metastasized. He hopes they can determine the molecular differences that result in the metastasis of cancer.

"This area of research has unique potential," said Marchetti. "We hope to acquire knowledge of key molecular targets that can one day be markers for patient-specific therapies to combat brain metastasis and prevent these cells from invading and growing in the brain."

The Avon Foundation held its fourth annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Houston April 16-17. The two-day, 39.3 mile walk united almost 1,000 breast cancer patients, survivors and their families and friends to raise money for breast cancer research.

This year, the Avon Foundation awarded more than $1.8 million in grants to local organizations including The Sisters Network, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The Rose and the Breast Health Collaborative of Texas. Seton Healthcare of Austin, Christus Health-St. Mary Hospital in Port Arthur and the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation in San Antonio also received grants.

For the fourth straight year, BCM served as the official medical sponsor. Dr. Julie Nangia, assistant professor in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center, led the team of more the 40 medical volunteers from BCM and other organizations who cared for the walkers as they completed their journey