NEW YORK – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Dr. Eleni Andeopoulou, breast oncologist at Weill Cornell Medical Center, was featured, along with Professor of biomedical engineering Claudia Fischbach, in the Cornell Daily Sun.
According to Prof. Fischbach, “breast cancer arises from abnormal cells that develop from errors in the genetic code,” the Sun reported, adding that “these mutations can cause the cells to grow uncontrollably in the breast tissue, resulting in a clump of cells called a tumor.”
According to Dr. Andreopoulou, “what makes breast cancer so dangerous is its malignant heterogeneity — certain cancers are hardwired to invade, migrate and spread,” the Sun reported.
“It follows a pattern of dynamic evolution — the disease is not static,” Andreopoulou told the Sun. “It’s the nature, and the biology of each tumor. Each cancer diagnosis is unique for each individual.”
“Everything from the tumor’s genetic makeup to a patient’s hormone balance and lifestyle choices can affect the clinical course of the disease, as well as how well patients might respond to certain treatments,” Andreopoulou said, the Sun reported.
“The treatment of breast cancer is often guided by the types of receptors on a patient’s tumor cells, according to Andreopoulou,” the Sun reported, noting that “one subtype — hormone-receptor positive breast cancer — means that tumor cells have receptors for hormones required for their growth, like estrogen or progesterone.”
According to Andreopoulou, “tumors with hormone receptors can be more effectively treated, because drugs that cut off hormone supply to these tumor cells — used in tandem with drugs targeting cell growth and division — can halt the progression of the cancer,” the Sun reported.
“Other breast cancer subtypes that lack both hormone receptors and a specific growth-promoting protein, HER2, respond to fewer drugs, and require a more aggressive treatment approach that’s mainly limited to chemotherapy, which is toxic to cells,” Andreopoulou told the Sun.
Advancements in technology are also helping patients continue their treatment during the COVID pandemic. “Weill Cornell physicians collaborated with the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine to employ HoloLens — a 3D mixed reality device that broadcasts holograms over physical space,” the Sun reported, noting that “while her physician’s assistant wore the HoloLens headset during a patient visit, Andreopoulou could broadcast live clinical records from her computer at home while voicing her insights through videoconference, allowing her ‘to continue providing care as close as [possible to her] being physically there.’”
Andreopoulou told the Sun, “For us, piloting this project has been significant progress forward in how we can maintain safe [breast cancer] patient care without interrupting the integrity and the importance of multidisciplinary care. That’s what technology is all about.”
Developments are also being made in the way patient’s tumors are studied, through organoids, “tissue cultures that replicate the complexity of a patient’s own cells while outside the body,” the Sun reported, noting that “if grown using a patient’s tumor cells, the organoid can be used to support rapid drug testing, which can ultimately fast-track the development of effective therapies and broaden the spectrum of patients that can be treated, according to Andreopoulou.”
“Because of its wide array of applications, organoids can be used to further understand why some patients respond poorly to chemotherapy, develop novel strategies to identify these patients in the clinic and create alternate treatments to improve patient outcomes,” the Sun reported.
Andreopoulou told the Sun, “We integrate technology into patient care very early on with all the amazing possibilities we have now — tumor sequencing, learning more and expanding our knowledge. We’re trying to exploit all these opportunities by tailoring treatment to the molecular vulnerabilities that patients have.”
Fischbach told the Sun, “Being trained as an interdisciplinary scientist is going to be important — not just for cancer research, but for everything. You need to be able to bring in all of these different aspects in order to move forward.”