Research Close to Home

The Connecticut Breast Health Initiative’s mission is to make a significant impact in the quest to find a cure for breast cancer by providing grants to support education and research. One hundred percent of money raised by CT BHI stays in Connecticut, the only program of its kind in the state.

CT BHI funds research that has not yet qualified for federal grants, specifically in the areas of breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. In addition, CT BHI funds educational programs and initiatives that support breast cancer awareness, treatment, quality of life, and survivorship.

The 2019 grant awards will be announced this fall. In 2018, grants were provided to Stamford Health, UConn Health and the University of Connecticut.

Recipients in recent years include researchers and educators at the Hospital of Central Connecticut, Jackson Laboratory, Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, Yale University, MidState Medical Center, Western Connecticut Health Network, Witness Project of Connecticut (Bridgeport), and the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Center (Fairfield).

Among them are these:

CT BHI Grant Advances First Step of Research into Reducing the Number of Breast Biopsies

Imaging with mammograms and ultrasounds to detect breast cancer saves lives. However, these modalities also generate many false positives which can lead to biopsy. There are approximately 1.6 million breast biopsies each year in the United States, of which 75 percent are negative for cancer. These 75% of women feel fortunate that they do not have cancer, but are left emotionally, physically, and financially exhausted by the process.

Dr. Ravi Jain, a radiologist at Middlesex Hospital, sought to use a new technology called Molecular Breast Imaging (or MBI), to explore if it could reliably identify the false positives and thus reduce the number of unnecessary breast biopsies.  To do so, he needed to conduct a clinical study.  The CT BHI grant he was awarded in 2017 provided the funding for such a study. The study team included the radiologists, mammographers, sonographers, MRI staff, nursing staff, and the grant coordinator, all at Middlesex Hospital in Connecticut.

When the results of this small study were tabulated, the "emerging trend was very encouraging". For Jain and the team at Middlesex Hospital, the CT BHI grant made it possible to take the critical first step of testing the concept of using the MBI technology. Hopefully, the study can be extended to other institutions and many more patients in the future. Should that ultimately occur, it will have started in Connecticut. “CT BHI made it possible to lay the foundation to carry this research forward,” Jain explains.  “We are very encouraged by the results, and greatly appreciate the opportunity to pursue this diagnostic approach."  The generous contributions to CT BHI made it possible.

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Research Aimed at Forging New Paths of Treatment and Survivorship

“Connecticut Breast Health Initiative (CT BHI) provides valuable support for the basic starting blocks - to examine a question in a pilot study that otherwise wouldn’t be asked, or to help round out aspects of a larger study that can make a difference for patients,” explains Susan H. Tannenbaum, Associate Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at UConn Health.

Grant funds from CT BHI “may lead to novel interventions or different therapies that can help patients and help us better understand how we can make a difference – in treatments, and in survivorship.”

Tannenbaum and colleagues at UConn Health have been recipients of CT BHI grants through the years. Most recently, Tannenbaum received a 2018 grant for “Genomic Assessment of Tumors from Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients: Comparison to Circulating Tumor Cells Identified in Same Patient Population.” That study is in the preliminary stages.

Currently, efforts are directed at medical journal publication of a recently-completed pilot study into fatigue that occurs during radiation treatment which is a significant problem that concerns that patient population. This was an extensive, multi-disciplinary effort over a few years at UConn Health including psychiatry, medical oncology, radiation oncology and nursing. Interesting initial results, Tannenbaum explains, came from assessments of a range of possible influences, and could provide the “building blocks” for a larger study that may ultimately lead to more effective interventions to reduce patient fatigue.

Although CT BHI funding is limited, it is sufficient to initiate research aimed at answering lingering questions at the margins of previous research, or to begin to test new theories, providing pilot data or ancillary data that can inform future treatments, making a difference in the lives of patients grappling with breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.

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CT BHI Supported Research Seeks to Reduce Return Visits to the Operating Room

Research initiated with the financial support of the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative (CT BHI) may reveal a methodology that will substantially decrease the likelihood of individuals who undergo a surgical procedure needing to return to the operating room, explains Anees Chagpar, Professor of Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, and a CT BHI grant recipient.

“It is ground-breaking work, and there is really no other way to get it funded. And it is absolutely critical to advance state-of-the-art practice in breast cancer management,” said Chagpar, exuding enthusiasm for her work in surgical oncology, and the impact of CT BHI grants in advancing her research. “What we are doing could change the way we do surgery – really revolutionize our surgical technique.”

The grassroots funding from CT BHI helps to fill the gap in industry-funded studies and gets past the roadblocks of intense competition for limited research dollars that can prevent “innovative work” from ever happening at all.

The multi-institutional study, led by the Yale School of Medicine, was built on the foundation of a single institution study at Yale previously published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. The larger study, funded in part by CT BHI, included nine cancer centers around the country, to assure that differing populations were involved, which is important in analyzing results that can be extrapolated to a larger population.

Chagpar underscores the importance of Connecticut-based research, and the benefits to patients. The “very solid results” achieved in this latest study are in the midst of being prepared for publication in a medical journal. That will hopefully lead to modifications in practice that will benefit patients, first and foremost, and also cut costs in the health care system by reducing the number of individuals for whom a return to the operating room after surgery becomes necessary.

Her message of appreciation to CT BHI mission, and those who support its mission, is succinct and sincere: “Your funding is absolutely making a difference.”