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San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium: A Place For Discovery And Inspiration

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Author: Cathy Samayoa | Category: Beyond The Bench | Cell Biology, Genetics & Molecular Medicine (CGM) | Cell Biology, Genetics and Molecular Medicine | December 23, 2015

Cathy Samaoya, graduate student in the Cellular and Structural Biology Ph.D. program, received an American Association For Cancer Research Scholar-In-Training Award for her poster at the San Antonio Breast Cancer symposium. Below is her description of the conference.

The 38th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer symposium just wrapped up, and brought together more than 8000 people from around the world. 

SABCS is a joint effort presented by the Cancer Therapy Research Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center San AntonioBaylor College of Medicine, and the American Association For Cancer Research.

It is the largest breast cancer symposium in the world, and brings together clinicians, scientists, advocates, and trainees to learn and present their research on breast cancer.

Since moving to San Antonio in 2011, I’ve been lucky enough to attend SABCS every year. For students, attendance to SABCS is free of cost, and is a great opportunity to build a network and foundation of understanding.

The first day of the symposium is especially helpful to trainees and early-career scientist, this is when the educational sessions and career development forum take place.

The career development forum provides opportunities to network and learn from experts in the field. 

For trainees, this is a good time to network with the experts, this is a special time set aside for about 200 trainees to speak with experts and pick their brain.

For the rest of the meeting they tend to get busy and it can be hard to talk to them given that they usually have a line of people waiting to speak to them. This year, the career development forum covered various topic, including:

- Improving presentation skills

- Careers in industry

- Choosing a mentor

- Grant writing

Also on the first day, they symposiums provides a venue to build a foundation of knowledge through the educational sessions. The educational sessions do a great job of preparing the attendees for the larger and more focused general sessions.

This year UTHSCSA’s own, Dr. Pothana Saikumar moderated the educational session on “Integration of Metabolism and Tumor Biology.” Another very interesting session was “Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity in Breast Cancer,” which was moderated by renowned Dr. Carlos Arteaga. This session focused on the role of IGF/insulin signaling, adipokines and the use of metformin and lifestyle change in breast cancer.

Together the educational sessions are a great way to get up to speed on techniques, signaling pathways, and therapies relevant to breast cancer.

During the general sessions and poster discussions, I also get to learn about how cutting-edge technologies are being applied to breast cancer research.

For example, circulating cell-free tumor DNA is being investigated in efforts of identifying diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of breast cancer and of recurrence.

One of the findings from the BOLERO-2 clinical trial, found that among patients with ERα+ metastatic breast cancer, investigators were able to identify mutations in the ESR1 gene using cell-free DNA obtained from blood samples.

Those patients with the mutations had worse median time overall survival. Interestingly, last year, Dr. Susan Fuqua from Baylor College of Medicine moderated a sessions on ESR1 mutations in metastatic breast cancer, something she discovered and published many years ago.

This year, the symposium focused on:

- Immunotherapy

- Personalized medicine

- Targeted therapies

- Mechanism of therapy resistance

- Tumor heterogeneity

- Identifying patients who will benefit from chemotherapy

- Mastectomies vs. Lumpectomies

- Utility of liquid biopsies

One of the many highlights of the symposium was Dr. Myles Brown’s lecture titled “Hacking the Hormone Code in ER+ Breast Cancer.” Dr. Brown, from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is a pioneer in Estrogen Receptor Alpha and was awarded the Susan G. Komen Brinker award for scientific distinction. 

Although the importance of ERα in breast cancer was identified many years ago, basic research continues to contribute to the management of breast cancer.

Understanding how ERα interacts with its coregulators, what it binds to under specific conditions, and how mutations in ESR1 affect biological responses are still pressing issues in the field. 

Dr. Ratna Vadlamudi, professor in the department of OB-GYN at UTHSCSA, presented his work titled “ESR1 coregulator binding inhibitor (ECBI) as a novel therapeutic to target hormone therapy resistant metastatic breast cancer” during the one of the general session.

On Thursday, I presented my poster, for which I was selected to receive the AACR scholar-in-training award

I was really excited to be recognized nationally for my work. 

My poster generated a lot of interest and kept me busy the whole time, so much so that I forgot to take the quintessential picture standing next to my poster.

After two hours, the lights finally dimmed, signaling that it was time to go, and I quickly exchanged business cards with my last visitor.

Overall, this symposium provides the perfect balance of clinical and translational breast cancer research, with ample opportunities to network and learn from leaders in the field. Attending SABCS is always an amazing experience for me.

All year, I spend countless hours on PubMed reading the latest on breast cancer research. At SABCS, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and mingle with the scientist I look up to; and I often find myself start-struck amidst a room full of exceptional scientists.

I feel very fortunate to call this my scientific community, and every year I leave a little more motivated and inspired. 

The "Beyond The Bench" series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.  

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