Large donation advances cancer research

Published 2010-01-12 00:00. Updated 2013-11-26 10:24

[PRESS RELEASE 12 January, 2010] Karolinska Institutet has received a donation of SEK 50 million from Märit and Hans Rausing for a large-scale research project on breast cancer. The overall objective of the project, which will be one of the most extensive breast cancer projects in the world, is to reduce the incidence of breast cancer by 40 to 50 per cent.

"We are very happy to be donating money to the fight against breast cancer, especially in light of our own family history," says Märit Rausing. "Hans's mother and grandmother both died of the disease, and his father, Ruben, put considerable effort into finding a cure. Of course, it's also important when you think that breast cancer is one of the most common diseases."

Some 4 million women in the western world have been diagnosed with breast cancer, making it currently the most common form of cancer in this demographic. In Sweden alone, 7,000 new cases are discovered every year, which means that one in nine women will develop the disease, which claims 1,500 lives every year.

"If were to prevent healthy individuals from falling sick, we need to know the causative factors," says Professor Per Hall, who will be leading the study which is conducted in corporation with Professor Jonas Bergh. "This, in turn, will make it possible to take more effective preventative measures, from changing a behaviour to medical treatment."

In recent years, effective preventative measures have proved highly successful in many areas of medicine, such as heart disease. Unfortunately, similar progress has not been made for cancer. Now, with the Märit and Hans Rausings Breast Cancer Initiative, Karolinska Institutet is confident that advances can be made by focusing on the healthy individual and the early stages of the disease.

"Karolinska Institutet's research world-unique competencies in the field were, of course, a key deciding factor in our choice of recipient," says Hans Rausing. "But it was also important to put the money into a research project that we know will quickly convert its results into new treatment methods and thus be of benefit to both healthcare and the wider community."

Karolinska Institutet's president, Professor Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, welcomes the initiative: "The Rausings' generous donation will give us resources to muster for a study that will generate information that is unique in the world, and that will give scientists fantastic new opportunities to make breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of the millions of women who are living with, or will be affected by breast cancer," she says.

About the donors

Hans Rausing was CEO and/or chairman of the family-owned company Tetra Pak, later Tetra Laval, for 37 years.

Märit and Hans Rausing live in Wadhurst Park in England. Over the years they have donated generously to charity, particularly for the benefit of medical research. Their interest in breast cancer stems from the fact that it is a common disease and one which has struck members of their own family.

Hans Rausing's father, Ruben Rausing, was deeply committed to finding a cure for his wife's cancer, and remained active in the field long after her death. He collaborated with and supported researchers, and in 1949 wrote Reflections on Cancer, in which he described his own hypotheses. He was also one of the first to back the proposal to establish what is now the Swedish Cancer Society.

Märit and Hans Rausing's Breast Cancer Initiative

The effective prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a disease require knowledge of the factors that cause it. Many such factors are known to science today regarding the risk of developing breast cancer in later life, such as number of children, age at first delivery, breast-feeding, the use of HRT, physical exercise and alcohol consumption. Twin studies and studies of individuals with a family history of cancer tell us that breast cancer has a hereditary cause. However, only a few of the genes that give rise to breast cancer are known to science, and much more research needs to be done to map all the genetic mutations that contribute to the risk of developing it.

One factor currently in use to assess the risk of developing breast cancer is the density of the breast. This property is measured using mammography and relates to connective and glandular tissue: the more such tissue there is, the greater the risk of breast cancer. A woman with dense breasts and who has passed the menopause runs four to six times the risk of developing cancer than a woman with non-dense breasts.

Karolinska Institutet has unique opportunities for leading the large-scale research project that the Märit and Hans Rausing's Breast Cancer Initiative constitutes to a successful outcome. Karolinska Institutet not only possesses world-leading expertise in breast cancer, it also has access, through its biobanks, to blood and tissue from a large number of breast cancer patients. This internationally unique material makes it possible for scientists to make detailed study of the factors that are critical to the development and course of the disease, and therefore essential to its prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

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