Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation Invests in Northwestern, Impacts Patients Worldwide

It’s a shocking statistic: About one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer. Improving diagnosis, treatment, and survival rates for everyone affected by this pervasive and devastating disease requires a multi-pronged approach: investment in both research and education. Embracing this strategy together for more than 30 years, the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation and Northwestern Medicine have fueled advances in breast cancer care that now help patients in Chicago and far beyond.

“A vital partner to Northwestern, the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation makes it possible for our scientists and clinicians to pioneer research and provide cutting-edge care to patients going through a very difficult experience. We are so grateful for the foundation’s insightful and impactful fundraising and generosity,” said Leon Platanias, MD, PhD, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and the Jesse, Sara, Andrew, Abigail, Benjamin and Elizabeth Lurie Professor of Oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

While the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation touches nearly every aspect of Northwestern Medicine’s breast cancer endeavor, one of its top priorities is creating opportunities for burgeoning scientists and clinicians to innovate and train to become future leaders in the breast cancer field.

Spurring Scientific Discovery

Through the Lynn Sage Scholars program, the foundation awards early career investigators with $200,000 grants over two years to explore new research projects. With that seed funding, the scientists can test ideas and generate data to apply for larger grants from government agencies like the National Institutes of Health and, ultimately, work to translate basic science into better prevention and therapies for patients.

Both 2017–2018 scholars, Marc Mendillo, PhD, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, and Dai Horiuchi, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmacology, delivered on the program’s premise.

“The awards from Lynn Sage encouraged both of our labs to initiate high-risk, high-reward research—the type of research that could not have been funded by traditional federal sources, especially at earlier stages of development,” explained Dr. Horiuchi.

Since receiving support from the foundation, the two former scholars have been able to secure nearly $4 million in federal grants for their laboratories.

“It is nearly impossible to obtain funding to develop a new idea. The foundation was absolutely critical in our efforts to develop QMAP-Seq technology,” shared Dr. Mendillo, referring to a new tool to test how drugs interact with genetically modified cells. The technology could drastically increase the speed and volume at which scientists can test targeted treatments for cancers and other diseases.

The scientists—who became collaborators after fortuitously meeting at a Lynn Sage event— are now working together to develop a novel therapy for patients with triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

“The Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation believes that ambitious research is the key to changing the trajectory of breast cancer, so we will remain committed to funding talented young researchers investigating potentially groundbreaking theories,” said Laura Sage, co-chair and founder of the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation. “We are so proud to report that our Scholars Program has driven additional funding worth six times our initial investment.”

Equipping Breast Cancer Experts Nationwide

The foundation also supports a competitive clinical fellowship program to train future experts in breast cancer care. The modern management of breast disease requires an in-depth knowledge of not only surgery, but also imaging, biopsy techniques, pathology, radiation oncology, and medical oncology. Such specialized training is only available at prestigious academic health systems like Northwestern, and only with donor support.

This story was published in the March 2022 issue of The Philanthropist, a newsletter for supporters and friends of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Read the whole issue here.

A Titan at Northwestern

To date, the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation has raised more than $40 million for breast cancer research and education. Its philanthropy helped establish the Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital—today the largest program of its kind in the Midwest—and enables physicians and trainees from around the world to collaborate at the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Symposium hosted by Lurie Cancer Center the last 23 years running. The foundation is named for Lynn Sage, a beloved mother, daughter, and wife who tragically died in 1984 at age 39 as a result of her battle with breast cancer.

“The Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation’s support for fellowships at Northwestern is incredibly important—the government funds some fellowships but not breast fellowships, so we rely on philanthropic sources for our program to continue,” said Nora Hansen, MD, chief of Breast Surgery and director of Northwestern’s breast surgery fellowship. “We feel so fortunate to be able to train future breast surgeons since so many women and some men will need these highly trained surgeons to manage their breast cancer in the future.”

Former fellow Melissa Kaptanian, MD, ’09 GME, moved to Montana after her training at Northwestern. For many years, she was the only fellowship-trained breast surgeon in the state, and today she leads the Logan Health Breast Center in Kalispell, Montana.

“It was important to me to get a broad range of training in high-risk benign disease, pre-malignant disease, and cancer, and that has served me well in my career,” Dr. Kaptanian said. “I hope the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation is proud of the really great doctors that come out of their program at Northwestern, who go on to not only urban and academic hospitals but also rural and community settings and get involved in everything from screening and outreach to taking care of people—I’m grateful to be able to do that.”

Today, a network of former Lynn Sage fellows is ensuring that patients across the United States have access to the specialized care they need.

“While we can say our funding stays in Chicago, we are so proud to know the positive effects will be felt nationwide for years to come,” Ms. Sage said.

For more information about supporting breast cancer research and education, please contact Nicole Langert at 312-503-1656 or or Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Foundation at 312-252-2502 or

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