ATHENA Breast Care Network New Initiative Demonstrates a Learning Approach to Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

The ATHENA Breast Care Network is changing the way that researchers approach breast cancer. By leveraging technology to bring together data and knowledge from five of the University of California medical centers, this collaborative initiative aims to deliver new, evidence-based interventions to patients through innovative approaches to breast cancer screening, prevention, and treatment.

"The goal is to speed up advancements in breast cancer prevention, screening, and treatment, and ultimately help women survive the disease by compressing the time it takes to implement innovations into clinical practice," explained Dr. Laura Esserman, Director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at the University of California San Francisco, who initiated the program.

The ATHENA study will follow a cohort of 150,000 women through the entire breast cancer process—from screening and surveillance to treatment and survivorship. Women who are screened for breast cancer at one of the participating sites will be enrolled into the network and followed for decades. By linking research with clinical care and providing patients with an opportunity to collaborate by contributing information about their health and personal habits, the study will build a community and a collection of data to power future developments in targeted prevention and treatment. Enrollment for ATHENA will begin this summer, initiating one of the largest and most comprehensive breast cancer studies ever performed.

Until now, managing the complexities involved in a study of this magnitude has been nearly impossible. Each site must be able to access and update the information generated, making data management and liquidity two of the greatest challenges facing the ATHENA project. In order to overcome this challenge, ATHENA will incorporate caBIG® technology and principles. According to Esserman, participating sites will be connected by the caBIG® interoperable infrastructure, and caBIG® will ensure that data are collected from patients and physicians in a uniform fashion to ensure that it is "computable, interoperable, and reusable."


Create common systems to integrate clinical research and care across the 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 cancer, and whether the risk of that cancer is significant or minimal.
Generate the evidence for developing more effective and less toxic treatments and to drive innovation in prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Provide tools to change the way patients and providers interact to prevent and manage the disease.
"ATHENA is a model of multi-institutional collaboration and demonstrates the enormous potential in shared systems....this initiative will demonstrate that the total of what can be accomplished by UC functioning as an integrated system can far exceed the sum of contributions by the individual campuses," noted John D. Stobo, MD, UC senior vice president for health sciences and services.

Dr. Ken Buetow, Director for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology at the NCI, agrees. "ATHENA really embodies the caBIG® pillars of community, connectivity, and content. This project demonstrates how collaborators can be connected, and data collection and management modernized, to support a learning healthcare system. Moreover, it provides a model that can be used to power discovery in other areas."

The ATHENA Breast Health Network
University of California, Davis Cancer Center
Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at University of California, San Francisco
Revlon/UCLA Breast Center
Breast Health Center at University of California, Irvine
Moores Cancer Center at University of California, San Diego

ATHENA Partners
BIG Health Consortium™
California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences
Center for Medical Technology Policy
University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health
University of California, San Francisco Institute of Health Policy Studies
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories
Quantum Leap Healthcare Collaborative