Karen Garloch

Komen Charlotte hosts breast cancer researchers

Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, director of breast cancer clinical trials program at Duke Cancer Institute.
Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, director of breast cancer clinical trials program at Duke Cancer Institute. Duke University

In 2013, Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, a Duke University cancer researcher, was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.

But she says the research that earned her that honor might not have happened without financial help from Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, the national breast cancer advocacy group.

Since 2010, Blackwell has been one of about 60 Komen Scholars nationally who receive research grants and help Komen decide which other research projects to fund.

Blackwell, director of the breast cancer clinical trials program at Duke Cancer Institute, is one of four Komen Scholars in North Carolina who will share news about their research June 6 at a luncheon sponsored by the Charlotte Komen chapter. The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Hilton Charlotte Center City, 222 E. Third St. (Details: www.komencharlotte.org, 704-347-8181.)

Other speakers will be Dr. Claire Dees, co-director of the clinical research program at Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at UNC Chapel Hill; Patricia Spears, a volunteer at Advocates in Science in Raleigh; and Dr. Neil Spector, director of translational oncology research at Duke.

Komen Scholars in North Carolina have received about $5.5 million since 2010, according to Kimberly Sabelko of Komen’s national office in Dallas.

Being a Komen Scholar is like winning “a mini Nobel Prize,” Blackwell said. She said it enables her to do “cutting-edge research” that might not get funding from traditional sources, such as pharmaceutical companies or the National Institutes of Health.

For example, Blackwell said she’s currently studying the use of anti-cholesterol drugs to treat breast cancer. The idea is that cholesterol and its metabolites may affect breast cancer in the same way as estrogen. She said the study wouldn’t have attracted funding from pharmaceutical companies because they already make millions of dollars on cholesterol drugs.

“The applicability to breast cancer is of very little interest to the companies that make them,” Blackwell said.

But Komen supports the work, partly because Blackwell is already a proven breast cancer researcher.

“They’re saying ‘We believe in you enough that we’re going to fund some pretty cutting-edge stuff that might not necessarily be funded through (other) methods,’” Blackwell said. “They're really looking at research that has direct application to finding a cure for breast cancer.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078