Breaking new ground in breast cancer research
IU School of Medicine Jun 05, 2018
By: Mary Maxwell
As a new member of the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research, Tarah Ballinger, MD, is breaking new ground by building on the research of Indiana University’s Theresa Guise, MD, whose laboratory research has demonstrated that the presence of cancer results in the loss of muscle strength, strength that is only made worse by our cancer treatments. Dr. Ballinger is taking this information to the clinic with the goal of helping breast cancer survivors regain physical stamina following treatment. With breast cancer survival rates climbing and women living longer after beating the disease, research like Dr. Ballinger’s is vital to help women reclaim their quality of life.
“We want patients to not only live, but live well,” says Dr. Ballinger, fellowship-trained breast cancer researcher who joined the IU School of Medicine faculty in 2017. “In the future, I expect that cancer recovery will be treated like cardiovascular rehabilitation is treated today, with an emphasis on helping patients get back to where they were physically before treatment.” Her research focus is to make this happen.
For Dr. Ballinger, a former club boxer in her undergraduate days at Notre Dame and life-long athlete, combining her life’s work with a focus on physical activity is a natural fit. After long days in the clinic she dons pink boxing gloves – a gift from her husband – and eases the pressure of the day by pummeling the training bag he also installed.
“I’m personally passionate about the benefits of exercise and because exercise is so closely tied with breast cancer risk and recurrence, it’s a particularly significant area of study,” she says.
Dr. Ballinger is currently leading a clinical trial to help breast cancer survivors become more active following treatment. Using a stationary bike to assess women’s capacity for exercise after treatment and GPS technology to track their daily activity, the study not only helps increase understanding of the side effects of breast cancer therapy, but also generates data to provide personalized activity recommendations for women.
“We know that after patients undergo breast cancer treatment, their functional ability is diminished,” explains Dr. Ballinger. “And while many women are conditioned to think of this as ‘a new normal,’ I believe empowering women with information about what they can personally do to affect the trajectory of the disease is extremely important.”
“Being in the Vera Bradley Foundation Center and on the cutting-edge of breast cancer research is highly motivating,” says Dr. Ballinger. “The research we do here is driving the field forward, helping to understand breast cancer as an individual disease.”