McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Gairdner Lecture – discovering new breast cancer therapies

by Suzanne Morrison
Published: October 16, 2007
Dr. Dennis Slamon
Dr. Dennis Slamon, director of Clinical/Translational Research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Thousands of women with breast cancer worldwide have cancer pioneer Dr. Dennis Slamon to thank for their survival.

Dr. Slamon headed the team which discovered the drug, Herceptin, a drug that treats a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer called HER-2/neu-positive. He is also leading an emerging wave of new more effective therapies designed to fight cancer at its genetic roots.

For his significant contributions to improving the quality of life for so many women, Dr. Slamon was selected as one of five winners of the 2007 Gairdner Foundation International Award, one of the most prestigious awards in all of science which recognizes outstanding contributions by medical scientists around the world.

Dr. Slamon is director of Clinical/Translational Research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

He will highlight the new opportunities molecular diversity brings to creating cures for breast cancer when he speaks on "The Diversity of Human Breast Cancer" at McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning (MDCL) on Wednesday, October 24.  His lecture takes place at 11 a.m. in room 1102.

The death rate from breast cancer has dropped 25 per cent in the past 20 years: 86 per cent of women now survive for at least five years after their diagnosis.

Dr. Slamon anticipates even greater success in the future.  He believes cure rates for cancer can be improved by about one-third with Herceptin – although data to confirm this  isn’t in yet.

Herceptin is a targeted therapy and attacks the specific genetic mutation which causes the disease. This is completely different from chemotherapy which attacks the entire system in the hope it will kill cancer cells, too.

Dr. Slamon says the success of Herceptin has made the hunt for other targeted therapies for lung, colorectal and prostate cancers a popular area of research, with some promising developments.

As well as serving as director of Clinical/Translational Research, he is director of the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Program at the Jonsson  Center; chief of the division of hematology/oncology and executive vice-chair for research at UCLA’s department of medicine.

In 2000, Dr. Slamon was appointed by U.S. President Bill Clinton to the three-member President’s Cancer Panel.  In 2004, the American Cancer Society presented him with its Medal of Honor, the top award bestowed by the organization.

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