Breast Cancer Working Group holds inaugural celebration

The UF Health Cancer Center’s new Breast Cancer Working Group held an inaugural celebration on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Earl and Christy Powell University House at the University of Florida. About 40 people attended the kickoff event, which featured presentations from the working group’s co-chairs and remarks from Jonathan Licht, M.D., director of the Cancer Center. Attendees also had the chance to network with colleagues.

Breast Cancer Working Group
The co-chairs of the Breast Cancer Working Group, Dejana Braithwaite, Ph.D., left, Shahla Masood, M.D., center, and Weizhou Zhang, Ph.D., right, with Jonathan Licht, M.D., director of the Cancer Center.

The working group launched this summer with the goal of creating a unique group for collaborations between the University of Florida and University of Florida – Jacksonville faculty, co-PI grant applications, and networking for planning future collaborations based on different areas of expertise.

By bringing together a diverse pool of accomplished researchers, the working group is championing the Cancer Center’s mission to address the cancer burden and disparities in care, Licht said.

“It takes this kind of multidisciplinary team to attack the problem from different angles,” Licht said. “That’s exemplary of the approach we have tried to take together to address the cancer problem at the University of Florida. It’s an all-university approach.”

“It takes this kind of multidisciplinary team to attack the problem from different angles.”

Jonathan Licht, M.D.

Working group co-chair Dejana Braithwaite, Ph.D., associate director for population sciences at the Cancer Center, noted the disparities in mortality rates that have persisted for African American women with breast cancer. “Our goal is to eliminate breast cancer disparities,” she said.

The working group’s other co-chairs are Shahla Masood, M.D., professor and chair in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida – Jacksonville, medical director of the UF Health Breast Center – Jacksonville and interim director of the UF Health Jacksonville Cancer Program, and Weizhou Zhang, Ph.D., a professor in the department of pathology who holds the Dr. and Mrs. James Robert Spencer Professorship of Pathology.

Zhang encouraged basic scientists to reach out to discuss collaborations so the group can help connect them with the many resources available. The goal is to raise awareness of the many basic science technologies that investigators can use and to foster new collaborative grant proposals and publications.

Masood discussed advances in breast cancer treatment and the need to close the gap in care for underserved populations. She also presented an action plan that seeks to make breast cancer a health care priority.

“The Breast Cancer Working Group will build a bridge to connect interested researchers from Jacksonville and Gainesville to focus on all aspects of breast cancer research, from patient education to screening to access to care to survivorship,” she said. “You need to ultimately put the right people together and give them the right instrumentation and the right direction and make sure they’re singing the same song.”