UMass Breastmilk Lab

BRCA project – newsletter post – 3/1/2020

Hi, this is a first newsletter posting for our BRCA project, one of my two funded projects. You can see a summary of the project, funded by the Breast Cancer Research Program, as a page on my website.  The essential concept is that methylation changes and somatic mutation accumulation may be detectable in breastmilk cells and provide risk assessment at a time when conventional screening does not work well and there is an increased postpartum breast cancer risk. My published studies show that changes in methylation of specific genes in milk cells are associated with measures of breast cancer risk.  We also have preliminary data that we can see mutations in breast cancer driver genes such as TP53 in milk cells of a small group of nursing Moms with breast cancer. The average age of recruited BRCA positive carriers in our study is about 34 and breast cancer risk is increasing significantly in the late thirties for BRCA1 carriers. The defective BRCA genes put carriers of pathologic BRCA variants (mutations) at risk of accumulating somatic mutations in additional breast cancer driver genes such as TP53. We are looking for a signature of breast cancer in samples from these women in the period before breast cancer happens or is diagnosed. We recruited the first group of participants for the BRCA study in spring 2019 (thanks to everyone for the donations) without mainstream funding. We now have funds to run the project for three years (essentially from the start of 2020 to the end of 2022). We are now actively recruiting BRCA mutation carriers who are nursing, mainly by cycling through a list of BRCA Facebook (FB) groups. There are a couple of groups we haven’t been able to connect with, ‘Bright Pink’ on FB and the web is one and ‘BRCA support -surveillance’ is another.  Current study participants can help us by posting our JPEG flier to relevant BRCA & HBOC previvor groups.  We do have to work harder on minority recruitment, FB doesn’t seem to be reaching non-white women, suggestions on outreach options are welcome. In a second part of the study, we are recruiting lactating women who have breast cancer or are getting a biopsy. We have several breast surgeons putting out the word to their colleagues. We have a page with downloadable recruitment materials designed to be shared in clinics and similar settings (we can mail out bundles of fliers if anyone needs them).
Scroll to Top