Avon Foundation grant marks personal journey for cancer researcher

May 1, 2011

From left, Dr. Mothaffar Rimawi, Dr. Julie Nangia, Dr. Dario Marchetti, Carol Kurzig, president, Avon Foundation for Women, and Dr. Adam Kuspa.
From left, Dr. Mothaffar Rimawi, Dr. Julie Nangia, Dr. Dario Marchetti, Carol Kurzig, president, Avon Foundation for Women, and Dr. Adam Kuspa.

When Dr. Dario Marchetti was awarded the recent Avon Foundation grant to study cancer that has spread to the brain, he was reminded of how important his work is not only to cancer patients but also himself.

"This is keenly personal to me. I lost my father to cancer that spread to his brain without the chance of saying goodbye to him," said Marchetti, a professor in the NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center and of pathology & immunology. "I will not stop until the first drug or blood test is approved clinically."

$300,000 grant

Marchetti received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the Avon Foundation to study why and how breast cancer cells spread from the breast and target the brain.

"This is the most fatal aspect of breast cancer and a very serious problem overall among all cancers. Presently, we cannot cure it. Being able to make advances in its cure and/or prevention would not only represent a major medical victory, but also an emotional victory for the thousands of patients facing this devastating disease," said Marchetti. He directs a laboratory at BCM devoted to studying circulating tumor cells, or the "seeds" of cancer metastasis.

"We hope to acquire knowledge of key molecular targets that can one day act as biomarkers for patient-specific therapies to combat brain metastasis and prevent these cells from invading and growing in the brain."

His work with breast cancer could potentially impact many different types of cancers that spread to the brain.

Support of Avon Foundation

Joined by his BCM colleagues Drs. Mothaffar Rimawi, Julie Nangia and Adam Kuspa, he was presented with a mock check April 17 in front of hundreds of breast cancer patients, their families and friends upon completion of the fourth-annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer Houston. The walk is a two-day, 39.3 mile walk across the city.

"It was an honor meeting the breast cancer survivors and all the women that want to make the difference in the fight against breast cancer," said Marchetti. "This is extremely important to me, and above everything else I care for these women. We respect cancer as a human disease and I am committed to helping drastically reduce the mortality due to brain metastasis." This year, the Avon Foundation awarded more than $1.8 million to Houston organizations for breast cancer research and access to care projects.

BCM served as the official medical sponsor for the fourth year in a row.