Middle Tennessee has two Susan G. Komen Scholars researching breast cancer with local donations

Posted at 9:11 AM, Oct 29, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The More Than Pink breast cancer walk on the last Saturday in October raised more than $297,000 that will stay in Middle Tennessee.

Twenty-five percent of the money is earmarked for research.

Two doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are Susan G. Komen Scholars, which means they have been handpicked to help the foundation make a difference with that money.

"We know that we need to fund research, but which areas are higher priority or highest priority?" said Dr. Ben Park. "If you look in the history of our business, it has always been the people who have made leaps of faith who have pushed the needle forward in a significant way."

Dr. Ben Park is the co-leader of the breast cancer research program at Vanderbilt. He is also one of the Komen Scholars. He and Dr. Ingrid Mayer, also at Vanderbilt, are two of only 52 people to hold this title.

The doctors have $894,000 to work with in 2019. The money was donated to Komen Central Tennessee. At the top of the list is a cure for patients with Stage IV breast cancer, also known as metastatic breast cancer. About 70-percent of all research dollars is spent researching Stage IV.

"We will get to that point I'm confident, but we're not going to get there overnight. We need to figure out how to treat every patient individually," Dr. Park said.

One way his research team is doing that is by looking at the effectiveness of liquid (blood) biopsies in replace of tissue biopsies. Tissue biopsies are taken from a single site.

"Our mission is to be bold and reduce mortality to half by 2026. If we're going to do that then we're going to have to take some risks," said Dr. Park.

Dr. Park said Komen Central Tennessee and Vanderbilt have a somewhat rare relationship.

"I have been very blessed and fortunate that I have been able to work with Komen Central Tennessee. It really is a synergistic relationship...I think together we're going to do a lot more than what we would do separately," Dr. Park said.

The remaining 75-percent raised by Komen chapters goes toward patients' access to care, such as mammograms, ultrasounds, education and diagnostic tests.