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Sacramento, Calif.ย – UC Davis Cancer Center will take part in an unprecedented statewide collaboration for breast cancer patients with the goal of revolutionizing the course of their care by designing and testing new approaches to research, technology and health-care delivery.

Named the ATHENA Breast Health Network, the groundbreaking project will initially involve 150,000 women throughout California who will be screened for breast cancer and followed for decades through the five UC medical centers. ATHENA is a University of California system-wide project supported by a $5.3 million University of California grant and by a $4.8 million grant from the Safeway Foundation.

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“ATHENA is a model of multi-institutional collaboration and demonstrates the enormous potential in shared systems,” said John D. Stobo, M.D., UC senior vice president for health sciences and services. ‘This is a great example demonstrating that the total of what can be accomplished by UC functioning as a system far exceeds the sum of contributions by the individual campuses. ATHENA represents an unprecedented opportunity to play a leadership role in driving critical changes in health care. The public nature of the UC institutions make them uniquely positioned to study the appropriateness and effectiveness of treatment. It also allows for the applied use of new scientific evidence, much of which has been developed in the UC medical centers, to truly change the delivery of care.”

The project is expected to generate a rich collection of data and knowledge that will shape breast cancer care in the way the renowned Framingham heart study changed the care of patients with heart disease.

‘There is a real need for us to accelerate the pace by which the death rate from breast cancer is reduced and then eliminated,’ said Ralph DeVere White, director of UC Davis Cancer Center. ‘To do so we need to pool our resources. The Athena project that brings the resources of the five UC-designated cancer centers together in a joint effort to fight breast cancer is a marvelous step in the right direction.’

In addition to UC Davis, the cancer centers involved in the large-scale demonstration project are UC San Francisco, which serves as the lead campus, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Irvine. Also participating are UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Northern California Cancer Center, Quantum Leap Healthcare Collaborative, the National Cancer Institute’s BIG Health Consortium and the Center for Medical Technology Policy.

We are excited to be supporting this innovative collaboration that, to date, has the clearest potential to produce ground-breaking research that will bring us closer to a cure,” said Larree Renda, Safeway Inc. executive vice president, chief strategist and administrative officer and chair of the Safeway Foundation.

Among the leading responsibilities of UC Davis researchers will be the development of information architecture for the collection of data on a massive scale and the establishment of a repository for thousands of tissue samples taken from women diagnosed with breast cancer.

The most common cancer in women, breast cancer is a devastating and costly disease, striking more than 200,000 women annually and killing more than 40,000 women each year, according to the American Cancer Society. In the United States, more than $20 billion is spent annually screening and treating the disease.

‘Recent advances in cancer research and information technology have far outpaced the progress made in delivering health services to patients,’ said Tianhong Li, assistant professor of hematology and oncology who will lead UC Davis’ ATHENA effort. ‘ATHENA seeks not only to improve the personalized treatment for breast cancer patients, but also to reduce breast cancer through prevention and fostering survivorship. ATHENA could potentially transform or revolutionize breast health care in all women at risk for breast cancer.’

The goals of the ATHENA initiative are to:

  • Create common systems to integrate clinical research and care across UC campuses to advance the science of prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
  • Drive innovation across the UC system to deliver and finance more effective and efficient systems for personalized and biologically targeted care, using breast cancer as a prototype.
  • Create a biospecimen repository that has broad racial and ethnic representation.
  • Reduce morbidity and mortality by gaining a molecular understanding of breast cancer and factors that fuel breast cancer risk.
  • Improve understanding of who is at risk for what kind of breast cancer and whether their risk is high or low.
  • Generate evidence for developing more effective and less toxic treatments.
  • Provide tools to change the way patients and providers interact to prevent and manage the disease.

Women screened for breast cancer at the five UC centers and their affiliates will be enrolled into the ATHENA Breast Health Network and followed for decades. All women undergoing screening and treatment will collaborate by contributing information about themselves, any risk factors they have, including health status: lifestyle-related behaviors such as diet, tobacco and drug use; environmental factors; gynecological history; and family risk. This information will be used to help target prevention services now and in the future. Women diagnosed with breast cancer will additionally join a ‘survivors cohort.’

While the ATHENA Breast Health Network focuses on breast cancer, the tools and infrastructure developed for this project are readily transferable to other cancers and conditions. ATHENA has the potential to serve as a transformative model to drive innovation, alter the culture of research and clinical practice and, ultimately, change health care delivery.

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