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Breast Cancer Symposium - Enhancing Clinical Care Through Collaboration

2013 Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Research Fellowship Awarded to Dr. Aki Morikawa

Aki Morikawa, MD, PhD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, is being honored with this year’s Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Research Fellowship in recognition of her research on brain metastases in patients with breast cancer. Her work greatly contributes to what is often an underexamined field. “Traditionally, these patients [with brain metastases] have been excluded from clinical trials,” Dr. Morikawa said in an interview with the Breast Cancer Symposium Daily News. “There is a lot of exciting research going on now that fills what we feel is an unmet need.”

Dr. Aki Morikawa

Each year, the Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Research Fellowship is given by the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO to support an investigator whose breast cancer research has a patient-oriented focus, including clinical trials or translational research. The Fellowship is given to support the winner in conducting new patient-oriented research under the mentorship of the Gianni Bonadonna Breast Cancer Award recipient.

Dr. Morikawa will be conducting her Fellowship under the tutelage of 2013 Gianni Bonadonna Award recipient Larry Norton, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, as well as under Andrew D. Seidman, MD, also of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In her research supported by the Fellowship, Dr. Morikawa will be involved in clinical trials for patients with brain metastases, including a study to optimize treatment scheduling and dosing by using mathematical models—a concept for which Dr. Norton is well known. (For more information on Dr. Norton’s accomplishments, see the corresponding article.)

“Dr. Morikawa is an exceptionally gifted medical oncologist with a background in laboratory investigations as well as clinical care and research,” Dr. Norton told the Breast Cancer Symposium Daily News. “She has worked closely with Dr. Andrew Seidman in the study of brain metastases. Dr. Morikawa will continue this work as part of our overall program in understanding how and why cancer cells ‘seed’ both normal organs and existing sites of metastasis. Stopping seeding is tantamount to ending cancer as a lethal disease.”

Dr. Morikawa is especially excited to begin these investigations in the wake of her recent research findings. “In the study that I just presented at the [2013] ASCO Annual Meeting, we showed that some drugs were actually able to cross the blood–brain barrier in our patients,” Dr. Morikawa said. “The blood–brain barrier had traditionally been thought of as a sort of filter that limits the effectiveness of systemic therapy, so the fact that some drugs actually cross it into the brain gives support for further studies of systemic therapy in brain metastases and is very exciting.”

Continuing a Mentoring Legacy

In beginning her upcoming research with Drs. Norton and Seidman, Dr. Morikawa will become the newest addition to a mentoring legacy; Dr. Seidman was Dr. Norton’s fellow roughly 20 years prior. “Dr. Norton is a great researcher, great physician, and great mentor,” Dr. Morikawa said, “and his influence has passed on to so many other well-known, excellent researchers including Dr. Seidman, who carries on the tradition of successful mentorship. I’m so honored and very excited [to work with both of them].”

Beyond their shared clinical interests, Drs. Morikawa and Norton also have a unique background in common; both went to school for music before medical school. “Music gives me a good way to balance work and life, and it’s great to have such a connection with Dr. Norton,” Dr. Morikawa said. “It’s so wonderful to collaborate with mentors who are not only great researchers but are also such interesting people.”