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Health and Medicine

Donor gives $25 million to establish UNC Lineberger Center for Triple Negative Breast Cancer

The record-setting gift supports the development of innovative cancer treatments, eradicating health disparities.

Dr. Lisa A. Carey
Dr. Lisa A. Carey will serve as the inaugural director of the UNC Triple Negative Breast Cancer Center.

An anonymous donor has made a $25 million gift to UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to establish the UNC Lineberger Center for Triple Negative Breast Cancer and to support other key UNC Lineberger initiatives. This is the largest donation in UNC Lineberger’s history, and it enables the cancer center to advance its groundbreaking research on diagnosing and treating a highly aggressive breast cancer that disproportionately affects Black, Latina and young women and historically has limited research funding.

The gift was made in gratitude for the care a family member received while being treated for cancer at Carolina, and to help expand and expedite the cutting-edge cancer research being conducted at UNC Lineberger. Specifically, the donor designated their investment to help women and men with all types of breast cancer, especially triple-negative breast cancer because of its poor prognosis. In addition, the gift will support research directed toward developing more effective treatments for metastatic disease, improving pediatric cancer care and eliminating racial disparities in cancer treatment outcomes.

Dr. Lisa A. Carey will serve as the inaugural director of the UNC Lineberger Center for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Carey, the Richardson and Marilyn Jacobs Preyer Distinguished Professor in Breast Cancer Research and a medical oncologist who specializes in treating breast cancer patients, said it is hard to overestimate the gift’s potential impact on advancing triple-negative breast cancer research and care.

A triple-negative breast cancer cell line.

A triple-negative breast cancer cell line stained for endothelial cells and blood vessel content. Using immunofluorescence, the researchers showed that blood vessels in the cell line are leaky. (Credit: Charles M. Perou)

“While research advances the past 30 years have led to new and more effective treatments for many types of breast cancer, this isn’t the case with triple-negative breast cancer,” said Carey, who, in addition to her clinical responsibilities, is the deputy director of clinical sciences and co-leader of the breast cancer research program at UNC Lineberger. “The good news is this gift will be a game-changer. It provides the cancer center with the resources to expand and speed the pace of our research focused on generating insights that lead to better treatments and outcomes for women with triple-negative breast cancer.”

Accounting for roughly 10-20% of breast cancer cases in the United States, triple-negative breast cancer is so named because it lacks the estrogen, progesterone and HER2 protein receptors commonly associated with other breast cancers. It is an aggressive, fast-growing cancer that has a high risk of spreading beyond the breast and of recurring despite treatment. It has significantly poorer outcomes than other breast cancers, and it disproportionally affects Black, Latina and young women. The only current standard of care involves chemotherapy.

In addition to establishing this new research center, the money will create multiple professorships and accelerate three strategic research initiatives that build on existing UNC Lineberger strengths:

  • Developing new treatments, particularly those that harness a patient’s immune system, including chimeric antigen receptor t-cell (CAR-T) immunotherapy. The objective is more personalized, more effective and less toxic treatment than currently available;
  • Expanding the genetic understanding and classification of cancer types to improve diagnostics and uncover new targets and modes of therapy;
  • And creating greater knowledge of nutrition and metabolism and their impact on disease prevention and more holistic treatment options.

“Our world-class researchers at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are applying innovative approaches to solving some of the grand challenges of our time,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “Our experts have done foundational work, especially in the space of triple-negative breast cancer. Under Lisa Carey’s leadership, they are uniquely positioned to make the most of this generous gift and find life-saving treatments that improve health outcomes for patients in North Carolina and beyond.”

Foundational research at UNC Lineberger

UNC Lineberger is internationally recognized for its foundational discoveries that have advanced the field of triple-negative breast cancer research.

In 2000, Charles Perou, the May Goldman Shaw Distinguished Professor of Molecular Oncology and co-leader of the UNC Lineberger breast cancer research program, published a groundbreaking paper identifying the molecular subtypes of breast cancer and demonstrating that breast cancer was not one disease but a collection of diseases with different prognoses. Specifically, the findings defined and characterized the dominant biology underlying triple-negative breast cancer.

In 2001, Carey and her UNC Lineberger colleagues launched the first clinical trial in the U.S. that targeted triple-negative breast cancers. Through its longstanding population-based study, the Carolina Breast Cancer Study, UNC Lineberger researchers also were the first to demonstrate that triple-negative breast cancer disproportionately affected Black women, particularly young black women.

“UNC Lineberger has a world-leading record of advancing understanding of triple-negative breast cancer and its therapy,” said Dr. H. Shelton Earp, UNC Lineberger director. “This remarkable gift will enable us to create an unmatched national hub of research excellence combining and enhancing our expertise in genomics, immunotherapy, and cancer nutrition towards more effective and less toxic therapy for advanced triple-negative breast cancer, and with the knowledge gained and our world-class community engagement team, better prevention, early detection, and timely therapy for all North Carolina‘s rural and urban populations.”

“This magnanimous gift is both inspiring and transformative, and it will be life-saving,” said Dr. A. Wesley Burks, dean of the UNC School of Medicine, vice chancellor for medical affairs, and CEO of UNC Health. “In addition to building on the depth of our expertise in cancer research and care, this gift enables us to focus on uncovering what makes some cancers so difficult to treat and identifying the drivers of racial disparities in cancer treatment outcomes. This is critically important work.”

Learn more about the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center