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Award Recipients Announced for the 2023 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), an SABCS cosponsor, will honor two researchers for their significant contributions to breast cancer research at the 2023 SABCS, December 5-9 at the Henry B. González Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas.

2023 AACR Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer Research

Kornelia Polyak, MD, PhD, FAACR, is the recipient of the 2023 AACR Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer Research, supported by Aflac Inc. This award was established to recognize outstanding science that has inspired, or has the potential to inspire, new perspectives on the etiology, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of breast cancer.

Polyak is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She is being recognized for her pioneering research involving the investigation of the role of the tumor microenvironment and intratumoral heterogeneity in tumor evolution, which has led to major advances in our understanding of breast tumorigenesis.

Polyak is revered for being one of the leading basic and translational scientists in breast cancer research. She has been and continues to be a pioneer in the study of tumors as an ecosystem, emphasizing the importance of the tumor microenvironment in disease progression and therapeutic resistance. Notably, she was the first to comprehensively profile the cell types that constitute normal, precancerous, and cancerous breast tissue. Further, Polyak proposed that the loss of normal myoepithelium may promote progression from ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) to invasive breast cancer. She also demonstrated that the active immune microenvironment of DCIS becomes immunosuppressed during the progression to invasive cancer.

Polyak’s early work dedicated to understanding intratumoral heterogeneity led her to be one of the first to characterize CD24+ luminal and CD44+ stem cell-like breast cancer cells, highlighting the necessity of reconciling the cancer stem cell hypothesis with the clonal evolution model. She published the first study assessing cellular genetic diversity in breast carcinomas using ecological and mathematical approaches and subsequently developed specific-to-allele PCR-FISH (STAR-FISH), a technique that allows for the detection of mutations at the single-cell level in intact tissue samples. Importantly, Polyak’s lab also identified the JAK2/STAT3 pathway as a dependency in triple-negative breast carcinomas (TNBC), described BET bromodomain inhibitors as new therapeutic agents in TNBC, and characterized various treatment resistance mechanisms. Polyak’s current research continues to focus on breast tumor evolution through the analysis of patient tissue samples and experimental preclinical models. Moreover, she is actively studying the role of risk factors such as genetic predisposition, age, and diet in cancer initiation and progression in an effort to design novel approaches for cancer prevention.

Polyak’s award lecture will be presented on Thursday, December 7, at 1 p.m. CT in the Stars at Night Ballroom 1-2 at the convention center.

2023 AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research

Alana L. Welm, PhD, will receive the 2023 AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research, supported by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. This award was established to honor an investigator whose novel and significant work has had or may have a far-reaching impact on the etiology, detection, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of breast cancer. Such work may involve any discipline across the continuum of biomedical research, including basic, translational, clinical, and epidemiological studies.

Welm is the senior director of basic science at Huntsman Cancer Institute, a professor in the Department of Oncological Sciences, and the Ralph E. and Willia T. Main Presidential Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at the University of Utah. She is being recognized for her seminal translational research discoveries that have led to the development and improvement of breast cancer therapies.

Welm has devoted her career to understanding the biology of metastatic breast cancer and to translating her findings into novel therapeutic approaches. She has developed innovative breast cancer models that accurately recapitulate breast cancer metastasis and treatment response, which has allowed researchers to evaluate a patient’s therapy in real time. Further, through her collection of 180 paired patient-derived xenografts (PDX) and PDX-derived organoids (PDxO), Welm has demonstrated that these models allow for the investigation of how human breast tumors metastasize and can also be exploited to predict the risk of recurrence for patients with TNBC. Importantly, when paired with PDxOs, these models also enable enhanced drug screening. Her work has led to several collaborative, investigator-initiated clinical trials, which aim to translate findings from her personalized cancer models into the clinic to improve patient care.

Welm has also furthered our understanding of the basic science of breast cancer by utilizing immunocompetent mouse models to make significant mechanistic discoveries. She discovered the tyrosine kinase RON as a crucial contributor to metastatic breast cancer. She also identified the major RON isoforms commonly found in breast tumors and demonstrated that RON activity is sufficient to promote tumor growth and metastasis. More recently, Welm’s lab discovered that the inhibition of short-form RON (sfRON) potentiates antitumor immune responses by expanding stem-like CD4+ T cells and augmenting CD8+ T-cell responses.

Welm’s award lecture will be presented on Friday, December 8, at 1 p.m. CT in the Stars at Night Ballroom 1-2 at the convention center.