A Quest to Find a Biomarker for the Early Detection of Breast Cancer Metastasis

Maggie Klee | August 15, 2016

elashryEarly in her life, Dr. Dorray El-Ashry was hit hard by breast cancer, inspiring her to turn her interest in science and research into finding a cure for cancer. In high school, she saw the impact on two of her best friends when their mothers were treated for metastatic breast cancer, the spreading of cancer cells to different parts of the body. After college, she witnessed cancer strike several of her family members and friends. She watched as two aunts, her grandmother, friends and colleagues were diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, and, sadly, as some lost their fight with it. “As I have been personally affected by the tragedies of breast cancer, and as there will be over 1.6 million new cases of cancer and almost 600,000 deaths from cancer this year in the U.S. alone, I am strongly motivated to advance cancer research and specifically breast cancer research,” Dr. El-Ashry said.

With her passion to help spare other families, she has focused her research on metastatic breast cancer, which represents a large percentage of those dying from the disease. Dr. El-Ashry’s goal is to develop a non-invasive blood test to help detect metastasis earlier.

Dr. El-Ashry’s lab recently made the remarkable discovery that circulating Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts (cCAFs), a type of non-cancer cell present in solid tumors, were in the blood of the majority of their breast-cancer patients with metastatic disease and were absent in breast-cancer patients who have had no evidence of the disease for at least five years after their treatment. In a small study of breast-cancer patients without metastatic disease, Dr. El-Ashry observed variable levels of cCAFS, suggesting that cCAF counts may not only correlate with disease severity, but may also provide information about the course the disease may run.

Dr. El-Ashry hypothesizes that these cCAFs may be a powerful indicator of disease metastasis that can be evaluated through a routine blood draw. “The funding we have been awarded from the Prevent Cancer Foundation will allow us to evaluate the predictive ability of cCAFs in a large patient study, with the ultimate potential outcome of establishing a non-invasive blood test to determine the risk of metastasis or to detect it early,” she said.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation is thrilled to fund groundbreaking research that may help drastically improve the survival rate of women with breast cancer. We look forward to hearing updates from Dr. El-Ashry as she conducts this study.

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