Research and Training Grants in Breast Cancer

The American Cancer Society funds scientists and medical professionals who research cancer or train at medical schools, universities, research institutes, and hospitals throughout the United States. We use a rigorous and independent peer review to select the most innovative research projects to fund.

Read More



Total Breast Cancer Grants in Effect as of August 1, 2019

Read More



Total Breast Cancer Grant Funding in Effect as of August 1, 2019

Spotlight on Breast Cancer Grantees

Here are some examples of the research areas and scientists the American Cancer Society funds. These investigators are working to find answers that will save more lives from breast cancer and improve the quality of life for patients and their families.

Studying the PTK6 Gene as a Potential Target for Future Treatments for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Grantee: Hanna Irie, MD, PhD
Institution: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, New York
Area of Focus: Leukemia, Immunology, and Blood Cell Development
Term: 7/1/2018 to 6/30/2022

“We’re studying genes that fuel triple-negative breast cancer, which may help lead to the development of new drugs to combine with standard treatments. Our goal is lifelong remission.”

The Challenge: Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) can be very aggressive and can quickly spread to other parts of the body. In contrast to other subtypes of breast cancer, TNBC has limited medical treatments except chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is effective for many patients. But for others, chemotherapy doesn’t keep TNBC from returning. New therapeutic targets and strategies need to be identified and validated to help improve outcomes for women with TNBC. 

The Research: With support from her grant from the American Cancer Society, Irie and her team have discovered that the high presence of the gene PTK6 may help forecast poor outcomes in patients with TNBC. To learn about how PTK6 affects the spread of cancer and its resistance to chemotherapy, the research team is studying how this gene regulates cell growth and how it interacts with the immune system.

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: Irie’s studies may provide insights about how PTK6 promotes metastasis as well as help support the development of new drugs to inhibit the PTK6 gene to enhance the body’s immune response and limit the spread of high-risk TNBC.

Helping More Women Survive Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC)

Grantee: Swarnali Acharyya, PhD
Institution: Columbia University’s Institute for Cancer Genetics in New York City
Area of Focus: Cell Structure and Metastasis
Term: 1/1/2017 to 12/31/2020

“We’re studying what makes breast cancer spread to vital organs because
that’s the cause of about 90% of deaths from cancer. Our research should pave the way
for the development of new treatments that may stop metastasis and possibly even
improve cure rates.”

The Challenge: Understanding why breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body (metastasizes) is a critical problem that needs urgent attention. Only 2 out of 10 women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) that has spread far from the breast (such as to the bones) survive at least 5 years. Whereas, 9 out of 10 women who have localized breast cancer, which has only spread to nearby tissues (such as to lymph nodes under the arm) survive that long.

Ordinarily our immune cells kill off diseased cells that are trying to invade the body. But MBC cells “hijack” some immune cells before they can kill cancer cells. It is thought that MBC cells “force” the immune cells to feed the cancer cells, which allows them to live long enough to spread. Plus, these cancer cells often don’t respond to chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to stop the cancer from surviving and spreading. Most immunotherapy research has focused on drugs focused on T cells, which are one type of immune cell. These drugs are very successful with some types of cancer. However, they don’t work against MBC.

The Research: Acharyya is using the funding from her American Cancer Society grant to study a different type of immune cell — B cells. She and her team have already developed drugs targeting T cells that are currently in clinical trials. Now, her team is looking for B cells that fuel the cancer cells, allowing them to spread. Once they’re identified, Acharyya will focus on reducing how many of that particular type of B cell the body makes.

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: Acharyya expects to learn more about how the immune system controls breast cancer metastasis. Her team’s results should advance the findings from current clinical trials. And that helps scientists move closer to the design of B-cell-directed anti-tumor immunotherapies to help control the spread of breast cancer and help more patients live longer.

Seeking New Treatments for Breast Cancer That's Spread

Grantee: Columba de la Parra, PhD
Institution: New York University in New York City
Area of Focus: RNA Mechanisms in Cancer
Term: 3/1/2016 to 2/28/2019

“Research findings from cells and animal models may lead to new metastatic breast cancer treatments.
I’m thrilled that my 4-year-old says she wants to be a ‘scientist like mom.’”

The Challenge: Metastasis is when cancer spreads from where it started to distant places in the body. It’s the main cause of death from breast cancer as well as several others. Over the last 20 years, research has made little progress in increasing survival for metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patients. So, research is sorely needed.

The Research:  With support from her grant from the American Cancer Society, de la Parra and her team are expanding on some of their previous research. They found a protein that drives the metastatic process that they named death-associated protein 5 (DAP5). This protein is required for breast cancer metastasis to occur in mice. DAP5 is an ideal target for a drug because it’s not needed for normal growth and development in adults.

To help move closer to such a drug’s development, now de la Parra and her research team are learning more about how DAP5 drives metastasis in mice. They’ve already identified factors about DAP5 that are involved in cancer growth, including how cells thrive, get blood flow, invade new space, and defy natural death.

The Goal and Long-Term Possibilities: There’s already an exciting extension of de la Parra’s work. Her mentor is Robert J. Schneider, PhD, a leader in this field. He’s translating de la Parra’s lab work to new cancer treatments that are being tested through clinical trials in people with MBC. 

Researchers Use New 3-D Methods to Study Breast Cells from Women with a BRCA1 Genetic Mutation

Grantee: Jennifer Rosenbluth, MD, PhD
Institution: Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts
Type of Research: Cancer Drug Discovery
Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2019

“I have been fascinated by methods that allow us to grow breast tissue in a dish in the lab. This allows us to grow and study cells in the breast that may be on the road to cancer. If we can understand the earliest changes in the breast that precede cancer, we can learn to prevent cancer from ever developing.”  

The Challenge: Women who inherit the altered form of the BRCA1 gene have a high risk of developing breast cancer as well as ovarian cancer. Those cancers may develop when a woman is young, and they tend to be aggressive. The current strategies to prevent these cancers focus on frequent mammographs and prophylactic surgical removal of the breasts. One theory researchers have is that these cancers develop from abnormal precancerous cells (called precursor cells or progenitor cells) in the breast. But there hasn’t been a way to study these cells outside of a woman’s body.

The Research: With her American Cancer Society grant, Rosenbluth and her team will use a new 3-dimensional method of growing breast tissue in a lab, where it can be studied. They’ll study the growth of these precancerous cells in hopes of finding ways they can be destroyed before they become tumors.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Rosenbluth’s goal is to understand the earliest events in BRCA1-associated cancer development. With that information, she may be able to identify new targets for new drugs that can be used to prevent breast cancer. They also hope their model to prevent cancer “in a dish” can be used to study the prevention of other types of cancer.

Understanding Why Breast Cancer Survivors Can't Take a Protective Drug

Grantee: Yehui Zhu, MSN
Institution: University of Pittsburgh Scho ol of Nursing
Area of Focus: Oncology Nursing
Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2019

“We’re working to explain why some postmenopausal women with breast cancer have joint or muscle pain during their treatment with aromatase inhibitors and some do not.” 

The Challenge: Taking an aromatase inhibitor (AI) for 5 or more years after treatment for breast cancer may keep it from coming back. These drugs include anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozle (Femara).

The problem is that up to 87% of postmenopausal women who take an AI report joint pain, muscle pain, and muscle stiffness. These symptoms affect a woman’s ability to function and her quality of life. There’s no clear understanding about why this occurs. But it can lead to about 25% of women taking these drugs to stop taking them too soon.

The Research: Zhu is studying the factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing this problem. Her research is part of her doctorate work at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Zhu’s research has the potential to provide evidence for oncologists to identify cancer survivors who have a high risk for developing this muscle and joint side effects.


Using Barcodes on DNA to Improve Treatment for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Grantee: Gloria Echeverria, PhD
Institution: University of Texas M.D. Anderson Center in Houston
Area of Focus: Tumor Biology and Genomics
Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2019

"By studying biopsies from triple-negative breast cancers, I learned that glitches in how cancer cells generate energy may allow some breast cancers to resist chemotherapy. My goal is to turn the tables on these cancer cells by using a drug
to target those glitches."

The Challenge: Nearly 50% of women with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) have cancer cells that survive after having chemotherapy as their first treatment. Cancers that aren’t killed by chemotherapy are called chemoresistant. Without a helpful treatment, these patients have a very poor long-term prognosis.

The Research: Echeverria studies this chemoresistance. She’s transplanting TNBC cells from women into mammary glands of mice. Then she tracks how they respond to the typical chemotherapies used to treat women with TNBC. She uses a state-of-the-art technique called DNA barcoding, which marks each tumor cell with a unique tag.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Already, Echeverria's studies have revealed a unique property in the TNBC cells that are not killed by chemotherapy. They have a glitch in the way they generate energy. Her studies have shown that a drug targeting how tumor cells generate energy may kill cancer cells that resisted chemotherapy. She hopes her funding from the American Cancer Society may help advance this treatment into clinical trials.

Wearable, Painless Device May Help Personalize Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Grantee: Darren Roblyer, PhD
Institution: Boston University
Type of Research: Preclinical and Translational
Term: 7/1/2014 to 6/30/2018

“My lab team created a small wearable probe to explore how light sent through the breast shows whether chemotherapy is working or not. With this knowledge, fewer patients will have to endure high doses of chemotherapy
that isn’t killing the cancer.”

The Challenge: Some people receive chemotherapy before surgery for breast cancer. They can go through all the cycles of chemo, enduring its many unpleasant side effects, without knowing if the chemo is killing cancer cells. That information often isn’t known until surgery. 

The Research: Roblyer and his research team use fiber optics and spectroscopy together to see inside breast tumors. Fiber optic communication sends information using pulses of light through an optical fiber. You’re likely most familiar with this technology’s use in telephone systems, cable TV, and internet. Spectroscopy is a technique that uses light to learn about the physical properties of something, such as its temperature and composition.

Robyler’s technology is called Diffuse Optical Spectroscopy (DOS). Roblyer and his team created and continue to improve a small DOS for patients to wear during chemotherapy. He’s testing it in breast cancer patients in a clinical study. Roblyer’s goal it to use the device to monitor a patient’s response to chemotherapy and adapt the treatment in real time.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: If DOS becomes part of the standard of care, many cancer patients could benefit by receiving only drugs and dosages that effectively treat their tumors. And doctors may be able to make timely changes in treatments and perhaps avoid drug resistance and side effects.

Studying Quality of Care for Medicaid Patients with Breast or Colorectal Cancer

Grantee: Jennifer Tsui, PhD, MPH
Institution: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Area of Focus: Cancer Control and Prevention: Health Policy and Health Service
Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2022

"Low-income and racial/ethnic minority patients, particularly those with Medicaid coverage, have worse cancer
outcomes. Evidence shows that they are more likely to be diagnosed late, less likely to get and complete treatment, and less likely to survive than higher income or non-minority patients. Our goal is to improve those outcomes."

The Challenge: Research shows that vulnerable populations often receive low-quality cancer care. Those populations include those insured by Medicaid, with low incomes, and who are part of a minority group. Yet, few studies focus on the underlying health care processes that contribute to poor care.

The Research: With support from her American Cancer Society grant, Tsui is studying the specific care process or delivery strategies that may improve transitions from primary care to specialty cancer care. She’s specifically studying Medicaid patients with breast or colorectal cancer.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Tsui’s findings may help set the foundation for a new cancer care transition intervention within in Medicaid healthcare settings.

New Hope for People with Triple-Negative Breast Cancers

Grantee: Nicolas Navin, PhD
Institution: University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston
Type of Research: Preclinical and Discovery
Term: 7/1/2016 to 6/30/2020

The Challenge: About 12% of breast cancers are triple-negative. This type of breast cancer can be tougher to treat.  Until now, triple-negative breast cancers have also been hard to study. But Navin developed a new way to sequence genes to find mutations that may be the most aggressive in triple-negative tumors. 

The Research: With his American Cancer Society grant, Navin and his team will use their method to learn if these mutations provide resistance to treatment. They’ll do that by analyzing tumor samples before and after chemotherapy.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: The hope is that this study and process will allow doctors to predict how a patient’s tumor will respond to treatment. That would allow them to better personalize treatment plans. The researchers expect that their work could start improving the quality of life and survival in those with triple-negative breast cancer within the next 5 years.

From Our Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us understand how to prevent, detect, and treat cancer, including breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Research Videos

Watch our videos to learn more about our breast cancer research.