V Foundation to Support Jasmine McDonald’s Research in Understanding Postpartum Breast Cancer

April 8, 2021

Research has shown that after giving birth, women are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer up to 10 years postpartum.  These women are also more likely to be diagnosed with advanced disease. Jasmine McDonald, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and assistant director for education and training at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) is focused on investigating women’s postpartum breast biology in order to determine and identify biological mechanisms behind postpartum breast cancer (PPBC).

Portrait of Jasmine McDonald, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and assistant director for education and training at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC).
Jasmine McDonald, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and assistant director for education and training at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC).

Dr. McDonald, who specializes in breast cancer etiology, has recently been awarded a V Foundation Scholar grant to support this work. The award goes to researchers who are working on projects that are designed to change the course of cancer. Dr. McDonald’s winning project will be supported by this V scholar grant for two years.

In the U.S., the annual percent change in metastatic breast cancer incidence is increasing at a faster rate in young women, ages 25 to 39, compared to older age groups, with the highest annual percent change in Black and non-Hispanic white women.

“The rise in breast cancer, not just in the U.S. but around the world, in women under age 40 makes postpartum breast cancer a global health threat,” says Dr. McDonald. “Women diagnosed with postpartum breast cancer, who are in the prime of their caregiving roles, are at increased risk of metastatic breast cancer and death. Understanding young women’s breast cancer is a public health priority.”

Dr. McDonald will work to identify unique tissue features, or phenotypes, within the PPBC tumor and tumor microenvironment, and examine  whether these phenotypes predict specific clinical features, such as tumor grade and tumor size. She and her team will use the New York Breast Cancer Family Registry cohort to analyze tumor tissue from 150 women.

“There is very little data to date contributing to our understanding about the basic biology of PPBC,” says Dr. McDonald. “Identifying biomarkers that map to PPBC outcomes may improve survival for young patients.”

In a related study, Dr. McDonald and her collaborators are aiming to uncover the link between breastfeeding and the reduced risk of developing PPBC. Breastfeeding is known to mitigate cancer, including its most aggressive forms, but it is still unclear how breastfeeding practices impact the physical and structural changes in breast tissue composition.

Dr. McDonald combines her foundational biological training and breast cancer epidemiological expertise to tackle multi-layered research that uncover biological understanding and have an impact in public health. Much of her research interests lie within populations that have a higher burden of cancer including those with a genetic predisposition, racial and ethnic minorities, and young women. Last week, Dr. McDonald was awarded a prestigious Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. The award recognizes her innovative teaching methods and contributions to academic learning, as well as her exceptional mentorship and community service.

Related:
Jasmine McDonald Wins Presidential Teaching Award