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Amazing Amelia

Submitted by guest author, Stephanie Rufenbarger Lesher

The Amelia Project is back!  I walked in as the last session before lunch was wrapping up.  I could immediately feel the energy in the room and see the excitement on the face of Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo who was answering questions about the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at the I.U. Simon Cancer Center.  For those of you who know Connie Rufenbarger, you will be able to relate to this quote from Dr. Storniolo: “I am having a “Connie moment” right now.  She would be doing flips in her seat if she were here.  This is so exciting!”  Dr. Storniolo was referring to the great questions and interest in the room for utilizing the normal breast tissue in the Komen Tissue Bank for cutting-edge breast cancer research in Indiana.

Keeping in mind that I am not a scientist and was attending the meeting as a representative of the Catherine Peachey Fund, here are a few of my favorite take-aways from the meeting:

  • Dr. Rulla Tamini, of Harvard University, presented information about breast cancer risk factors that were new to many of us in the room:  birth size (indicator of fetal growth) and birth weight (increased weight compared to increased breast cancer risk).  She discussed the critically vulnerable time between a girl’s onset of menarche and her first pregnancy, in terms of being exposed to environmental factors that can increase her breast cancer risk.  She talked about the correlation between increased height and an increased risk of breast cancer, as well as the inverse relationship between weight and breast cancer risk.  While it made me want to go home and feed my tall, thin 10 year old daughter a few cupcakes, that clearly was not her message.  Knowing these correlations points researchers to find the mechanism to help us with the prevention of breast cancer moving forward.  Interesting note: the increase in height has been shown to correlate to increased risk of many cancers (not just breast)…simply put, the proliferation of cells gives a person more cells that can go wrong.
  • For the first time in the history of the Amelia Project, a session for junior scientist presentations was included on the agenda.  I loved this part of the meeting!  I loved that we could give these junior scientists a platform to present to their colleagues.  The more senior scientists were clearly interested in the research and great questions were asked and introductions made to other potential contributors who were in the room  Loved it!  I also loved the opportunity for these junior scientists to learn about the potential for funding from the Catherine Peachey Fund.  Thanks to the senior scientists who chimed in and agreed that the Catherine Peachey Fund had been instrumental in funding some of their early research that has led to significant contributions to the field of breast cancer research.
  • There was great interest in metastatic disease.  A question was asked by one of the advocates in the room about research being done on metastatic breast cancer.  Dr. Kathy Miller recognized that there is a second wave of breast cancer research emerging around metastatic disease.  There is obvious interest in this area of research by both advocates and researchers, as evidenced by some of the research presented by the junior scientists.
  • As the Director of Just Peachey: Bearing Fruit Cookbook, I could not help but be thrilled to see that the chef at IU-Kokomo had included recipes from the cookbook in the beautiful and delicious spread of food that was put out for lunch.  Besides the food being delish, the din in the lunchroom was impressive, as scientists had a chance to meet each other and discuss the information shared during the morning sessions.  The poster session immediately followed lunch, and I saw 2-3 people discussing and collaborating in front of every poster in the room.  Awesome!!

It made me feel hopeful to watch the “meeting of the minds” and the beginnings of new scientific collaborations happening before my eyes.  The Catherine Peachey Fund would like to sincerely thank Kristen Scott, Educational Events Planner for the IU Simon Cancer Center, and her team, for facilitating such a productive and exciting day.  I am already looking forward to the Amelia Project 2017!  For more information about the day’s agenda and keynote speakers, please visit the Amelia Project page at the IU Simon Cancer Center website.

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