From Breaks to Breakthroughs

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Archival photo of Maria Jasin and Mary Ellen Moynahan

Maria Jasin with breast oncologist Mary Ellen Moynahan (right) in 1998. Photo: MSK Archives

By Matt Tontonoz

Maria Jasin’s discoveries have led to concrete advances in patient care. The targeted medicines called PARP inhibitors, for example, are based on knowledge gained from her work. These drugs take advantage of the fact that tumors with a BRCA mutation are less able to repair DNA damage than normal cells; DNA damage builds up in the cancer cells, and they eventually die.

“Dr. Jasin’s discoveries were absolutely foundational for the development of PARP inhibitors as a treatment for an expanding list of cancers,” says Mark Robson, Chief of the Breast Medicine Service at MSK.

He notes that PARP inhibitors are now considered one of the most promising recent developments in treating BRCA-mutated cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. The US Food and Drug Administration approved these drugs for use in BRCA-mutated pancreatic cancer in 2019. They were already approved for BRCA-mutated breast and ovarian cancers.

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