Personal calling to cancer leads to dedicated and hopeful research

Dr. Giampaolo Bianchini lost his best friend to cancer, prompting him to devote his professional life to studying better treatments

When he first enrolled at university, Dr. Giampaolo Bianchini had his heart and mind set on becoming an engineer. But during his studies, his life course changed dramatically when his best friend died.

“He died of cancer,” Dr. Bianchini recalls. “It was then that I decided I wanted to study medicine, and to make a significant contribution to caring for patients.”

He also looked forward to working with a team, and says today that he still feels honored to have been influenced by the work of Drs Luca Gianni and Gianni Bonadonna, both of whom are known for their paradigm-shifting works in the field of breast cancer.

Today, Dr. Bianchini is a medical oncologist in the breast cancer unit, as well as head of clinical translational and immunotherapy research, at the Ospedale San Raffaele in Milan.

He has also been a visiting scientist at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD; the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX; and the Yale Cancer Center. He has published more than 40 articles in several international journals, including Cancer CellLancet OncologyJournal of Clinical OncologyJNCINature Review Clinical OncologyJAMA Oncology and Cancer Research. He has given more than 200 invited lectures and over 70 presentations at international meetings. He is assistant professor for the integrated course of oncology at the Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan.

In focusing on breast cancer, Dr. Bianchini says that biomarkers are one of the most significant and relevant facets of his research. The study of biomarkers also helps oncologists better understand which biological features influence early and late disease progression.

“This is an exciting area of research,” he says. “It helps us develop a strategy for caring for a smaller group of patients who need longer care and this calls for more investigation.”

Dr. Bianchini is the co-inventor of a patent aimed to define which patients will benefit from a specific drug combination. He is also engaged in several studies which explore the role of the immune system in cancer and the potential of immunotherapies to treat breast cancer and other solid tumors.

This potential to better treat cancer patients guides Dr. Bianchini in his work. He says that personalized medicine would significantly improve treatment and, he thinks, patient outcomes. But more trials are necessary. And more research on biomarkers, he notes, would help oncologists in particular to better understand and fine-tune the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.

“It requires a huge investment,” he says.

He cites research and data on triple negative breast cancer, which has traditionally had poor outcomes, but also points out that with more than 130 trials testing different immunotherapies, the expectation to significantly bring clinical benefit to patients is high.

In reflecting on his work, and the personal experience that brought him to medicine, Dr. Bianchini says that he also takes a broader view.

“I’m influenced by the major achievements of the doctors who have come before me, and expanding those achievements to help more patients.”