Fighting Cancer

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. How is Weizmann Helping?

E-News, October 2017 • TAGS: Cancer, Cancer treatment, Women

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and people everywhere are running, walking, and even shopping in support – and, at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, investigating, researching, and pursuing creative new ways to attack this still-insidious, too-common disease.

The Weizmann Institute has a history of successfully fighting breast cancer; for example, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation supported early Weizmann research that helped develop Herceptin® (trastuzumab), one of the first – and most widely used – breast cancer drugs on the market. Today, thanks to the Institute’s new Moross Integrated Cancer Center, which will enable highly specific focus on individual cancers, breast cancer research will become ever more advanced and personalized.

Here are just a few of our current investigations into breast cancer:

  • Early diagnosis is crucial to successful treatment, which is why Prof. Hadassa Degani has devoted herself to developing non-invasive ways of diagnosing breast cancer, such as her FDA​-approved, MRI-based technique, three time point (3TP). Prof. Degani’s latest diagnostic breakthrough, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), is even less invasive, not even requiring the injection of contrast material: rather, it is based on tracking the natural movement of water molecules in breast tissue.

  • The Institute is known for its cross-disciplinary environment, and in an example of the power of this approach, a laser-plasma physicist is also devising ways to detect breast cancer at the early stage. Prof. Victor Malka, who recently joined the Department of Physics of Complex Systems, is also research director at France’s Laboratory of Applied Optics. Laser-plasma accelerators produce very energetic, bright, and highly tunable particle beams with unique properties, opening interesting new paths in medicine, chemistry, biology, materials science, and more.

    Advances at the lab are providing wholly novel ways to detect cancerous breast tumors at a very early stage. Prof. Malka is fostering collaborations to, among other things, develop this application of laser-plasma accelerators, thus bringing an innovative area of research to Weizmann and expanding our approaches to breast cancer treatment.

  • Tookad®, the photodynamic cancer therapy developed by Prof. Avigdor Scherz and the late Prof. Yoram Salomon, was recently approved for use in the E.U. by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). It was approved in Mexico and South America last year, and approvals in Israel and the U.S. are expected soon. The fast, safe Tookad® technique successfully treats the tumor at the site, without damaging surrounding tissue. The Weizmann scientists are also studying the technique for possible use in treating ovarian, lung, pancreatic, and gastrointestinal tumors, as well as potential application to non-cancerous conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and ectopic pregnancy. Clinical studies at Memorial Sloan Kettering and other institutions continue.

  • Weizmann investigates all aspects of breast cancer, including an unfortunate effect of mastectomies: lymphedema. This condition – painful swelling in the arms and legs – is, as the Mayo Clinic says, “most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to your lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment.” Lymph nodes are frequently eradicated during mastectomies. Our award-winning Dr. Karina Yaniv has solved historic puzzles about the development of the lymphatic system and made breakthroughs that include, in a world’s first, actually growing lymphatic cells in the lab, shedding unprecedented light on the system. Understanding how the system forms and develops can provide crucial insights into diseases ranging from the metastasis of breast cancer to the abnormal accumulation of lymph fluids, particularly in the wake of surgery to remove cancerous tumors.

These creative projects are just a few of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s breast-cancer-defeating initiatives. Our dedicated scientists are looking at this cancer from new angles – and uncovering information about the disease and how we approach and treat it. But they need your help. For the sake of women everywhere, join their quest for an end to breast cancer.