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Indiana University School of Medicine establishes research center focused on developing new treatments for breast cancer

IU School of Medicine • 6/4/18

Indiana University School of Medicine is launching a new research center focused on dramatically improving therapies for some of the most difficult-to-treat types of breast cancer.

The center will be named the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research in recognition of two decades of philanthropic support from the Indiana-based handbag maker and its charitable foundation.

“While we have made major strides in the treatment of breast cancer, far too many women still die from this disease, and others endure long-lasting side effects from treatments,” said Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA, dean of IU School of Medicine. “With the establishment of this center, we are putting a big stake in the ground and redoubling our efforts to find solutions for these women.

“No one has done more to support breast cancer research in our state than the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, and I cannot imagine a more fitting namesake for our center,” he added.

Hess announced the establishment of the center on June 4 at the 25th annual Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Classic. The classic is the largest amateur women’s golf and tennis charity tournament in the country and is held each spring in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

IU School of Medicine has launched a national search for the inaugural director of the center. The director will lead a team of approximately 30 highly skilled breast cancer researchers from throughout the university and recruit new talent to complement existing expertise.

To attract an innovative and world-class leader, the Vera Bradley Foundation is committing $2.5 million to establish a new endowed fund that will fuel the director’s vision. As part of For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign, Indiana University will match the gift. In addition, Hess is committing another $2.5 million in school resources.

This new gift brings Vera Bradley Foundation’s total commitment to breast cancer research at IU School of Medicine to $37.5 million.

“To say breast cancer cannot be cured is unacceptable,” said Patricia R. Miller, co-founder of Vera Bradley Inc. and an Indiana University alumna. “Therefore, with tenacity as one of Vera Bradley’s core principles, we have worked toward a cure for the last 25 years, and we will keep raising funds for research for as long as it takes. With the establishment of the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research, I am confident we will be successful.”

“Finding a cure for breast cancer has been our mission from the beginning,” said Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, co-founder of Vera Bradley. “One of our greatest honors is to have the new research center named the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research. Together we will continue our dedication to this cause.”

While the center will conduct research related to all facets of breast cancer, it will be especially focused on triple negative breast cancer, said Anantha Shekhar, MD, PhD, executive associate dean for research affairs at IU School of Medicine. Triple negative breast cancer tends to be more aggressive and spreads more rapidly than other forms of breast cancer, and it disproportionately affects younger women and black women. It also has a higher recurrence rate, and once it has returned, standard therapy is often ineffective.

“Along with Vera Bradley Foundation’s generosity, IU has made tremendous investments in both faculty recruitments and infrastructure as part of our Precision Health Initiative that put us in a prime position to make substantial inroads against triple negative disease—and to potentially cure some forms of it,” Shekhar said. “We are beginning to uncover the genetic changes that give rise to these particularly toxic forms of breast cancer, and we are developing the capabilities to harness the power of a women’s own immune system to attack her tumor. With this combination of cutting-edge treatments, I am confident that we will soon be able help more women conquer their disease.”

One goal of the center is to make more promising clinical research studies available to women throughout Indiana with triple negative breast cancer and other cancers, Shekhar said. As the nation’s largest medical school, IU School of Medicine is also uniquely positioned to ensure research discoveries made in the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research benefit women everywhere, he said.

“Since its founding almost four decades ago, Vera Bradley has been known for making handbags and other designs for women, but Barbara Baekgaard and Patricia Miller have led the creation of something even more impactful—an army of researchers fighting breast cancer,” said Patrick Loehrer, MD, director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. “The establishment of the new center will be the face of the IU Simon Cancer Center’s fight against one of the leading causes of cancer worldwide.”

Read more about the Vera Bradley Foundation Center for Breast Cancer Research on the IU School of Medicine Blogs Hub.

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The Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer has committed $37.5 million to breast cancer research at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, Indiana. Vera Bradley Inc. contributes significantly to the Foundation and additional support comes from a variety of sources including events and individual donations. Vera Bradley’s co-founders began raising funds for a cure after the loss of a dear friend to the disease in 1993. Learn more about the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer at www.verabradley.org.