Genetics symposium to examine the science, promise and ethics of breast cancer research and treatmen

By Jennifer O'Brien

The University of California, San Francisco, Comprehensive Cancer Center will host a symposium on April 25 that will bring together renowned scientists, as well as leaders in other fields, to discuss the promise, practice - and ethical issues - of breast cancer genetics research.

The audience of 160 invited guests will include academic researchers, clinicians, biotechnology executives, insurance executives, community leaders, ethicists, attorneys, advocates and patients.

The intent of the event - which will address the status and promise of research on the genetics of breast cancer, the translation of medical research to the clinic, and the ethical issues involved with carrying out genetics research and tests on patients—is to fuel discussion on these often debated issues with the audience. Each presentation will be followed by a question and answer period, and a roundtable discussion will be held in the afternoon.

The six scientists who will speak at the symposium include Laura van ‘t Veer, PhD, of The Netherlands Cancer Institute, whose group has pioneered the use of a “genetic signature” that presages a good or poor prognosis and promises to have clinical utility in selection of patients with early breast cancer for aggressive treatment; Kari Stefansson, MD, Dr. Med., the chief executive officer and founder of deCODE Genetics, who was involved with the groundbreaking partnership between the Icelandic government and deCODE scientists to develop a commercial genomics database based on Iceland’s extensive medical records; and Henry T. Greely, JD, C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, Stanford University.

The other speakers will include Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, Director of the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center, who developed ONYX-015, an experimental therapy for treating several types of cancer; Robert Hiatt, MD, PhD, UCSF assistant adjunct professor and Director of Population Sciences at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center, whose mission includes studying the increased burden of cancer in the Bay Area; William Foulkes, MB, PhD, who is Director of the McGill University Program in Cancer Genetics in Montreal; and Ray White, PhD, director of the UCSF Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center.

The roundtable facilitator will be Charles Epstein, MD, UCSF professor of pediatrics, chief of the division of medical genetics and co-director of the UCSF Program in Human Genetics.

“The goal of genetic studies of breast cancer is to identify the genes that cause breast cancer, particularly those that most affect the outcome for patients and the response to therapy. The symposium is an opportunity to review the status of genetics research, and to address the key health policy and ethical issues associated with these studies,” says the host of the symposium, Joe Gray, PhD, UCSF professor of laboratory medicine and radiation oncology, and the program leader of the Breast Oncology and Cancer Genetics Programs at the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The symposium is sponsored by the Avon Foundation, as part of the foundation’s overall funding of the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center-City of San Francisco partnership aimed at addressing the breast cancer health needs of the Bay Area’s under-served populations. The program aims to provide state-of-the-art equipment, medical care, education, psychosocial support and access to new treatments, clinical care and basic research.

ATTENTION MEDIA: Below is a schedule of the event. Journalists may attend a portion of the event or the entire symposium. To ensure a seat in the sessions or to attend the lunch with the group, please register at Avon. Directions are provided at the registration web site.

Genetic Promise and Practice
Friday, April 25
7 a.m. (registration); 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Crowne Plaza Hotel
480 Sutter St., (at Powell St.)
San Francisco

The Avon Project Symposium: Genetic Promise and Practice, April 25th 7:00-8:00 Registration and Continental Breakfast 8:00-8:45 Welcome
Joe Gray, PhD

The Avon Foundation’s Commitment to Scientific Research
Avon Foundation Representative

Preview of the Day

Joe Gray, PhD 8:45-9:30 Genomics Research and Medical Promise
Ray White, PhD 9:30-9:40 Questions & Answers 9:40-10:15

Translating Medical Research into the Clinic: Assessing Genetic Risk
Barbara Weber, MD 10:15-10:25 Questions & Answers 10:25-10:40

Break 10:40-11:15

Translating Medical Research into the Clinic: Improving Cancer Management
Laura van ‘t Veer, PhD 11:15-11:25 Questions & Answers 11:25-12:00

Translating Medical Research into Products: The Business of Science
Kári Stefánsson, MD, Dr. Med. 12:00-12:10
Questions & Answers 12:10-1:10

Lunch 1:10-1:45

Legal and Ethical Aspects of Human Research
Henry T. Greely, JD 1:45-1:55 Questions & Answers 1:55-2:15 Break 2:15-4:30

Roundtable Discussion 4:30-5:00

Closing Remarks: Maintaining the Public Trust
Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS 5:00 Reception

Symposium Chair

Joe Gray, PhD
Professor, Laboratory Medicine and Radiation Oncology, UCSF; Program Leader, Breast Oncology and Cancer Genetics, UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center.


Henry T. Greely, JD
C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law, Stanford University

Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS
Director, UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute

Kári Stefánsson, MD, Dr. Med.
President, CEO and Founder, deCODE Genetics

Laura van ‘t Veer, PhD
Director, The Family Cancer Clinic, The Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam

Barbara Weber, MD
Director, Cancer Genomics Program, University of Pennsylvania, Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute

Ray White, PhD
Director, The Ernest Gallo Clinic & Research Center

Roundtable Facilitator
Charles J. Epstein, MD
Professor, Pediatrics, UCSF; Chief, Division of Medical Genetics; Co-Director, UCSF Program in Human Genetics.