October 5, 2016
Susan G. Komen will present its highest scientific honor, the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction, to Charles M. Perou, PhD, a renowned breast cancer researcher at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Perou is being recognized for cancer genomics research that demonstrated that breast cancer can be classified into different molecular subtypes, a finding that has had important clinical value.
“It is extremely gratifying to receive this award,” said Perou, who is the co-program leader of the UNC Lineberger breast cancer research program. “It means a great deal to me to know that the Susan G. Komen, and its associated scientists, think this highly of my research. This only gives me more energy to work harder towards a cure.”
Komen established the Brinker Awards for Scientific Distinction in 1992. One award is presented to a clinical researcher, and the other is awarded to a basic scientist. In addition to recognizing Perou’s achievements, Komen will present the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research to Monica Morrow, MD, FACS, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medical College.
Perou and Morrow will receive their awards at the 39th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium on Dec. 7, where they each will present a keynote lecture.
Perou has studied the genetic underpinnings of breast cancer for nearly two decades. His scientific contributions include the characterization of the diversity of breast tumors, which demonstrated that breast cancers can be classified into different molecular subtypes.
That critical finding led to the discovery of the basal-like/triple-negative breast cancer subtype, which he has continued to study throughout his career. He and his colleagues also have discovered that breast cancer subtypes were of prognostic and predictive value, and furthermore, to associate specific genetic mutations with specific breast cancer subtypes.
In 2003, Perou and collaborators showed that the basal-like subtype is the most common breast cancer in women with the BRCA1 gene mutation. Three years later, he and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the basal-like subtype was also more frequently seen in African-Americans.
In 2014, Perou led a large-scale genomic analysis of 3,500 tumors from 12 different tissue types that revealed that some cancers should be completely reclassified based on their molecular characteristics. That work could translate into changes in the way that cancers are treated – opening the door for new cancer treatment options for some patients.
Perou, the May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology and professor of genetics, and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in the UNC School of Medicine, said he started his studies of breast cancer at the advent of DNA microarray technology in 1997. They suspected that taking a genome-wide view of breast cancers – including of the RNA that reflects how genes are expressed – would reveal some scientific insight, but in retrospect, he said he had “no idea” just how informative it would be.
“This research showed that breast cancer is not one disease, or even two diseases, but that it is at least five different diseases,” Perou said. “This clearly complicates treatments options, however, we now have a better molecular handle on this complexity and this was a key step down the road towards personalized medicine.”
Perou is the second UNC Lineberger member to receive the Brinker Award. Komen presented Hyman B. Muss, MD, director of the UNC Lineberger’s Geriatric Oncology Program and the Mary Hudson Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Medicine Division of Hematology and Oncology, with the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research in 2012 for his critical contributions to the treatment of breast cancer - in particular the treatment of breast cancer in older women.
Komen has invested more than $920 million in breast cancer research, and is currently funding nearly 300 research grants worldwide. This September, Komen awarded six grants totaling more than $2.5 million to the UNC Lineberger researchers to fund innovative studies ranging from an effort to rapidly identify genetic changes driving breast cancer metastasis to a study exploring factors driving breast cancer survival disparities.