Since the launch of Georgetown Lombardi's Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research 25 years ago, the outlook for a person diagnosed with breast cancer is brighter than ever. Although the struggle to find cause and cure continues, the fatality rate has dropped from over 50 percent in the 1970s to less than 20 percent today due to the efforts of dedicated doctors and researchers like Nina Hyde Center directors Claudine Isaacs, M.D. and Robert Clarke, Ph.D., D.Sc.

"The ball's been moved so far down the court in the last 25 years," says Dr. Clarke. "The number of women who now survive 10 years, 15 years, 20 years after breast cancer diagnosis is remarkable. Nonetheless, we still have a long way to go to eliminate this disease."

The Nina Hyde Center was founded in 1989 through philanthropic support from designer Ralph Lauren and Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham in tribute to Nina Hyde, the legendary fashion editor at the Post. Hyde faced her diagnosis with determination and advocacy, galvanizing the fashion industry to support ongoing breast cancer research at Georgetown. She left a lasting legacy that offers hope for ultimately preventing and curing the disease.

World-class Researchers and Clinicians

Leading Georgetown's team of over 70 world-class researchers and clinicians working on breast health, Dr. Isaacs values the center's unifying community and rich collaboration.

"The Nina Hyde Center brings together all of the breast cancer research happening at Georgetown into one multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, collaborative, highly productive place," explains Dr. Isaacs. "We are able to accomplish so much more as a team than we could on our own."

In addition to collaboration within Georgetown, Nina Hyde Center scientists partner with institutions across the country and around the world to study high-impact, quality research in breast cancer.

Moving Forward

While Georgetown continues to make progress in breast cancer research and care, investigating new therapies, drugs and long-range studies comes at a tremendous cost. In the current climate of reduced federal funding for research, Dr. Clarke emphasizes the importance of continuous philanthropy provided by supporters of the Nina Hyde Center.

"How do you support the early work, the stuff that's high risk, high reward, where nobody knows whether it's going to work or not?" asks Dr. Clarke. "How do you support young investigators struggling to get their first grants, or mid-career scientists who are between grants? You can only do it from philanthropy. It's absolutely fundamental to what we do."

Today is an amazing time to be doing breast cancer research at Georgetown, says Dr. Clarke. "The technologies that we have available, the questions that we can ask, the ways we can ask them, the ability to really move things forward has changed dramatically in the last 10 years." And, he adds, the outlook for the near term is filled with excitement and hope.

"It's taken us a while to understand what we can do with these technologies," he notes, "but now we have a grasp of what the real potential is and how we can deliver it. The next five years are going to be unbelievable."

About Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research

Consistently ranked in the top 10 breast cancer research centers worldwide, the Nina Hyde Center leads the way in:

Understanding the biology of hereditary breast cancer and complex aspects of genetic counseling

  • For 20 years the center has provided expert genetic counseling and testing to individuals with high familial risk—the longest-standing program in the Washington, D.C. area.
  • Nina Hyde Center researchers clarified the function of BRCA 1 in groundbreaking work demonstrating its key role in regulating the estrogen receptor.
  • The center designed and led two studies that changed the standard of care in genetic counseling for hereditary breast cancer, pioneering pre-surgical counseling and testing, and remote counseling.

Developing new approaches to exploring the most common forms of breast cancer

  • The center has been involved in hundreds of national and international clinical trials in all stages of breast cancer over a 25-year span.
  • Nina Hyde Center investigators currently run 19 clinical trials including BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutation studies.
  • The National Cancer Institute awarded the center a $7.5 million grant to develop systems biology, using engineering principles to model breast cancer cell response.
  • Center researchers have discovered breakthroughs in drug repurposing, such as using a combination of a common malaria drug with tamoxifen to reverse drug-resistant breast cancer.

Asking the big questions and uncovering the answers: What causes breast cancer? Why does breast cancer recur? Why does a drug stop working? How do we treat breast cancers that have spread to other parts of the body?

  • Since 2009, the Nina Hyde Center has published nearly 400 cancer-related peer-reviewed articles, collaborating across departments and with other national and international institutions.
  • The center takes the lead in exploring potential environmental causes, including groundbreaking new work in metal exposures and nutrition.

Improving survival in underserved Latina and African American communities through convenient and supported screening, navigation to treatment, and expanded research and clinical trials

  • The center serves over 2000 patients per year through Washington, D.C. community-based comprehensive breast cancer care outreach programs.
  • Researchers partner with Georgetown Lombardi's Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities to improve outreach and outcomes in underserved communities.

Nurturing and training many of today's breast cancer research leaders and experts across the country

  • National experts with early career experience at the Nina Hyde Center include: Vered Stearns, M.D., at Johns Hopkins; Minetta Liu, M.D., at Mayo Clinic; Doug Yee, M.D., at University of Minnesota; Matt Ellis, M.D., Ph.D., at Baylor.

Designing clinical studies with the patient's perspective at the forefront

  • Ten breast cancer survivors form the Patient Advocacy Group that meets monthly with researchers and oncologists, guiding the design of trials and research studies with practical, valuable input.

Jane Malhotra
Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
December 11, 2014