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Johns Hopkins Researcher Wins Prize For Breast Cancer Biomarker Studies - 10/31/2011

Johns Hopkins Researcher Wins Prize For Breast Cancer Biomarker Studies

$50,000 Award Recognizes Research with Potential for Rapid Clinical Use and Commercialization
Release Date: October 31, 2011
Sara Sukumar
Sara Sukumar, Ph.D.

A Johns Hopkins breast cancer researcher is the recipient of a $50,000 award designed to encourage rapid translation of her basic research on biomarkers into a commercially available test that could predict the best treatment options for some women with breast cancer.

Sara Sukumar, Ph.D., codirector of the Breast Cancer Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, won one of two BioMaryland LIFE Prizes at the October 25 joint meeting of the Johns Hopkins University Alliance for Science and Technology Development and the University of Maryland Baltimore (UMB) Commercial Advisory Board.

More than two dozen Johns Hopkins and UMB researchers presented research advances they believe are likely to become successful products or businesses to a group of business leaders, colleagues and venture capitalists. A panel of judges selected a winner from each school to receive the $50,000 prize, funded by the Maryland Biotechnology Center and the two universities.

James Gammie, M.D., a UMB researcher and associate professor of cardiac surgery, received the prize for designing a device to repair mitral valve regurgitation, a heart valve defect common in adults. His invention, he reports, offers a minimally invasive alternative to open heart surgery.

Sukumar, who is also a professor of oncology and pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says the methylated gene biomarkers her team discovered may better predict how patients whose breast cancers are estrogen receptor (ER) negative will respond to various treatments.

With further refinement, the biomarkers could show if patients are responding to therapy and if they’re at risk for future recurrences. Sukumar says she hopes her biomarker-based test will someday help the nearly 25,000 women diagnosed with ER-negative breast cancer each year and who unnecessarily undergo chemotherapy. “The goal is to identify patients who won’t benefit from chemotherapy so they can try out new modalities as a first-line therapy instead of going through treatment that will never help them,” Sukumar says. She says she’ll use the award funds to refine groups of markers to predict disease progression and response to therapy for women with breast cancer. 

Governor Martin O’Malley commented on the award, which the state supports via the Maryland Biotechnology Center. "In Maryland, we are fortunate to have within our borders some of the world's best and brightest scientific minds. We are pleased to partner with our world-class universities to create jobs and support efforts to promote innovation to assert our State as a hub of research and discovery."

The Johns Hopkins Alliance for Science and Technology Development was formed eight years ago as a way to help Johns Hopkins faculty commercialize their research and technological innovations. High-level business executives now sit on the board and offer business advice, networking and help finding money to move projects forward. The meeting between the Johns Hopkins Alliance and the UMB Commercial Advisory Board is an annual opportunity for researchers to network with business leaders and present concepts that aim to translate science to business.

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