Maryland professor receives science prize
Angela H. Brodie, a professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, received the 13th annual Jacon Heskel Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine administered by Brandeis' Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center for developing combative drugs for postmenopausal women with breast cancer, according to an Oct.7 BrandeisNOW article. The BrandeisNOW article states that Brodie pioneered the development of aromatase inhibitors, "which combat the return of cancer in postmenopausal women by reducing the level of estrogen produced by the body, since estrogen is a major stimulus of breast cancer." In an interview with the Justice, Brodie described aromatase inhibitors as oral drugs that are now used as the first line of treatment for postmenopausal women with breast cancer.
Brodie told the Justice that she was "very proud" to receive the Gabbay Award. "It was very, very nice," she said.
According to its website, the Gabbay Award was created by the trustees of the Jacob and Louise Gabbay Foundation "to recognize, as early as possible in their careers, scientists in academia, medicine, or industry whose work had outstanding scientific content and significant practical consequences in the biomedical sciences." The website also states that the award consists of a $15,000 cash prize and a medallion. The winner of the award also delivers a lecture at Brandeis about his or her work and attends a dinner afterward at which the formal presentation takes place, according to the website.
Brodie delivered her award lecture, titled, "Aromatase Inhibitors and Breast Cancer: Concept to Clinic" at Brandeis last Tuesday. She said that she hoped that the event attendees, who consisted of students, university administrators, faculty and breast cancer patients from outside the Brandeis community, went away with the message that "it's not so difficult or daunting a task to take something from the laboratory . into the clinic if you really think it's going to work."
Prof. Dagmar Ringe (BCHM), chair of the committee that selects the recipient of the Gabbay Award, said in an interview with the Justice that the committee was looking for a candidate who took basic research and successfully translated it into practical application. Reflecting on Brodie's work, Ringe said that Brodie "personifies that particular aspect absolutely perfectly." Ringe also said that this year, 10 candidates were considered for the award.
Brodie told the Justice that she became interested in breast cancer research during her years as a graduate student in her home country, the United Kingdom, when she was first introduced to the subject. She said that at that time, not much was known about breast cancer and that "patients underwent rather gruesome procedures and treatments, and I felt then that there had to be a better way of doing it."
"In the past the only way to reduce the estrogen, to stop the tumors from growing, was surgical, so they removed the ovaries and awful things like that. But actually it wasn't that effective because most of the patients were actually older women when the ovaries weren't producing estrogen and the estrogen is produced elsewhere. In that case, a drug approach would obviously be much better, which is what we did," Brodie said in an interview with the Justice. Brodie said that her lab is currently looking at patients who lack estrogen receptors and tumors that have become resistant to the aromatase treatment.
In the case of patients who do not have estrogen receptors, Brodie said, "It seemed that the estrogen receptor gene was silenced, so we used inhibitors to prevent the silencing or reverse the silencing. They would induce the estrogen receptors and the aromatase, and then we could block those with our aromatase inhibitors." She said this procedure has "worked really well" in animal studies and that human trials will take place in Chicago and Maryland.
Regarding tumors that have become resistant to the aromatase treatment, Brodie said that her lab has received "a good response" when the treatment consisted of blocking the stimulation of a well-known oncogene-a gene that turns a normal cell into a tumor cell when mutated-in breast cancer and utilizing aromatase inhibitors.
"In the past 15 years now, because of the early diagnosis with the mammograms and these types of treatments, death from breast cancer has gone down by about 50 percent," Brodie said.
According to the BrandeisNOW article, Brodie also received the Dorothy P. Landon-AACR Prize for Transitional Cancer Research in 2006 from the American Association for Cancer Research and one of the three annual Charles F. Kettering Prizes for cancer research in 2005.