Foundation holds first in-person annual meeting in three years
By Melissa Johnson
What a difference a year makes. As the late afternoon sun streamed through the windows of Flanders Fish Market, dozens of people donning pink celebrated the Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation’s accomplishments at its 16th annual meeting, the first in person since 2019. The sunlight was bright, but the hope was brighter.
Attendees lined up for dinner and refreshments before TBBCF President Patti Burmahl delivered opening remarks. She shared some important numbers, including that TBBCF has awarded 55 grants totaling $5.5 million to breast cancer researchers since 2006. She said that a week after registration opened, 28 walkers and 17 volunteers had already signed up for this fall’s 17th annual Walk for a Cure.
Burmahl also noted that Marcie Brensilver, 2021’s honorary walk chair, was the first recipient of the foundation’s lifetime achievement award. Brensilver has raised between $250,000 and $300,000 for research.
The next speaker, TBBCF Treasurer Stacey Gualtieri, shared names and numbers. She rattled off 2021’s top fundraisers, speaking quickly because there were so many. She said that more than 50 events and promotions in 2021 raised $65,000 toward TBBCF’s mission, which she summed up nicely: “We’re here to cure breast cancer.”
The third speaker, Dr. Mike Morin, serves on the foundation’s scientific advisory board, which selects grant recipients. He said the past 10 to 15 years have been the most exciting time in his 45 years of cancer research, because scientists now understand why the body is ineffective at attacking cancer. As it turns out, he said, “cancer is really well skilled at turning off that immune response in the body.”
In his introduction of keynote speaker Dr. Jennifer Guerriero, Morin said, “Her work has determined that there are some pretty bad actors that are recruited from the normal immune system. Cancer cells recruit them to do their bidding, and in so doing, set up a microenvironment for themselves that is much more conducive to cancer growth than they are conducive to immune recognition.”
That’s where Guerriero comes in. She is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Breast Tumor Immunology Laboratory at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts. She was also a 2020 grant recipient.
“You fund what needs to happen,” she said. She detailed the progress her independent lab, Guerriero Laboratory at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has made toward harnessing a patient’s own immune cells to cure breast cancer. Immunotherapy “has been enormously effective in some types of cancers. Not breast cancer—yet,” she said.
Guerriero plans to change that. She is researching tumor-associated macrophages, a type of white blood cell that is highly suppressive in the tumor and contributes to therapy resistance in part by inhibiting cancer-fighting T-cells. The Guerriero Lab recently discovered that certain types of therapy, such as PARP inhibitors, make macrophages even more suppressive.
“We believe that the macrophages are a liability of PARP inhibitor therapy,” Guerriero said. Her team has proposed the novel combination of targeting macrophages with CSF1R inhibitor therapy, which depletes macrophages, and PARP inhibitor therapy to move into clinical trials. “We think the combination is a potentially powerful combination and will lead to successful clinical outcomes,” she said.
And she’ll have time and money to do it. Guerriero announced that she has won $4.5 million in additional funding from the National Institute of Health, which amounts to seven more years of continued research, all based on her team’s paper published in the prestigious journal “Nature Cancer” in December 2020. The research for that paper was funded by TBBCF.