University of South Florida

USF gets $2.8M NIH grant with Aetna to study genetic testing and breast cancer treatment

USF Health’s Dr. Rebecca Sutphen will lead the national, collaborative research expected to help personalize and improve cancer care

TAMPA, Fla. and HARTFORD, Conn. (May 9, 2013) The University of South Florida (USF) and Aetna (NYSE: AET) are launching a ground-breaking study that will examine the influence genetic testing may have on clinical treatment decisions among breast cancer patients and their doctors. Understanding the connection between genetic risk factors, treatment options and results can guide policies and services that can help patients and doctors make more informed, personalized decisions that lead to better health.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded funding to USF for the five-year American BRCA Outcomes Among the Recently Diagnosed (ABOARD) study. The study will follow 5,000 Aetna members from across the country who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer and who are undergoing genetic testing.

Certified genetic counselors can help assess specific cancer risks in families, recommend appropriate genetic tests, and interpret genetic test results. They can also recommend appropriate personalized options for cancer screening, early detection and prevention. Individuals and their doctors can use this information to optimize care. Current research suggests that only a small percentage of breast cancer patients who have an inherited cancer risk actually receive genetic counseling and testing services. Even fewer receive this information at the time of diagnosis when it might be most useful for making surgical and other treatment decisions. 


USF Health’s Dr. Rebecca Sutphen will lead the national collaborative study.

“Research shows that many women who develop breast cancer have inherited a strong predisposition to cancer. However, many of these women are not aware of their genetic susceptibility. They also do not know that they are at high risk to develop another breast cancer or ovarian cancer in the future and that other blood relatives are at increased risk for cancer,” said Rebecca Sutphen, M.D., professor of genetics at the Epidemiology Center, USF Department of Pediatrics.

“This unique academic-industry collaboration will create a new level of research into the impact of genetic information on American cancer patients and their families. Few topics have greater potential for positive public health impact. We appreciate Aetna’s leadership and collaboration to make this important research possible.”

Dr. Sutphen, an American Board of Medical Genetics-certified clinical and molecular geneticist and expert in inherited cancer risk, will lead the national study. The multidisciplinary team will include:

  • Dr. Sutphen’s research team at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, including co-investigators Kristian Lynch, Ph.D., James Andrews, Ph.D. and Claudia Aguado Loi, Ph.D.
  • An Aetna team led by Joanne Armstrong, M.D., M.P.H., national medical director for women’s health and lead for genomic medicine
  • An advocacy team led by Sue Friedman of the national non-profit advocacy and awareness organization Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE)
  • Marc Schwartz, Ph.D., director of cancer control, Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Georgetown University

The project will use patient-reported outcomes as well as medical claims data.  Using information from a variety of clinical settings rather than only academic centers will provide a more “real-world” view of current care. USF and Aetna have developed an extensive research and security infrastructure to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of participant data.

“The research will provide critical information that can help ensure the benefits of advanced genetic testing and genomics can be used to guide safe, effective personalized health care. As more sophisticated tests are developed, we have a responsibility to help patients and doctors understand how to act on the information to improve patients’ health,” Dr. Armstrong says.

The new study builds on an existing research partnership between this multidisciplinary team and researchers from the American Cancer Society. The groups have been working together for the past two years, with support from the Aetna Foundation, to better understand the experiences of individuals who have had genetic tests to determine their inherited risk of cancer. The study also looked at differences in treatment, information and health outcomes among minority patients. Results are expected to be published later this year.

About USF Health
USF Health’s mission is to envision and implement the future of health. It is the partnership of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Public Health, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group. The University of South Florida is a global research university ranked 50th in the nation by the National Science Foundation for both federal and total research expenditures among all U.S. universities. For more information, visit

About Aetna
Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving an estimated 44 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities, Medicaid health care management services, workers’ compensation administrative services and health information technology services. Aetna’s customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, health care providers, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. For more information, see

No one should have to face hereditary breast and ovarian cancer alone. For more than 13 years, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) has been the voice of the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer community. FORCE provides support, education and awareness to help those facing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer know their healthcare options and make informed decisions. The organization is the de facto leader in guiding critical research and policy issues that impact the hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer community. For more information about FORCE and hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, please visit



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