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The Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit in London announces 13 scholarship awards for 2016-2017

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We’re pleased to announce 13 new graduate student scholarships at Western University for the 2016-2017 academic year.  These awards are supported by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada’s very generous commitment to the Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit (TBCRU) at London Health Sciences Centre’s London Regional Cancer Program (LRCP).

Trainees compete annually for these awards.  Their applications are assessed on the scientific quality of their project, their academic record, the relevance of the project to translational breast cancer research and the strength of their mentor.  Seven PhD students and six MSc students were selected for awards this year.

These students are enrolled in six departments or programs at Western (Anatomy & Cell Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering Program, Chemistry, Medical Biophysics, and Pathology & Laboratory Medicine).  One of our trainees is jointly enrolled in the PhD Medical Biophysics/Clinical MSc CAMPEP (Commission on the Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs) Accredited Program, which prepares trainees to become medical physicists.  The trainees are working in research laboratories at LRCP, St. Joseph’s Health Care London and Western.

Their research projects cover a wide range of research areas, including the metastatic spread of breast cancer, the role of immune cells in breast cancer progression, improved imaging for early detection, new treatments and much more.  You can learn more about our trainees at the TBCRU website:

Over the coming year, the students will provide updates on their research progress here on the BCSC research blog.

Congratulations to our trainees – and thank you to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and its supporters!

Ann Chambers, PhD
Director of the Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit


An Invasive Tumour Cell Subpopulation as a Therapeutic Target in Breast Cancer

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My name is Tahereh Vakili (pictured right) and I’m
a Master’s Tahereh's photo BCSC Blogsstudent in the Department of Biochemistry a Western University. I work under the supervision of Dr. Eva Turley (pictured left), whose lab is located at London Health Sciences Centre’s London Regional Cancer Program. Dr. Turley’s lab is interested in the intricacies of the tumor microenvironment and particularly the role of hyaluronan (a molecule within the skin and other tissues) and its receptors RHAMM and CD44 in invasion and metastasis.

Breast tumors often display remarkable diversity of cells within. Some tumor cells may survive chemotherapy and possibly spread to form new tumors, which becomes a major impediment in treatment. My project focuses on a newly identified type of diversity in human breast cancer cell models based on hyaluronan binding. I investigate the sensitivity of these tumor cell subtypes to clinically routine chemotherapeutic regiments. To date, I’ve found that a high-binding subset is more chemoresistant than the low-binding cells. The findings of the study may be beneficial for designing new therapies that prevent tumor recurrence and prolong patient survival.

This past year has been a unique one for me. I enjoyed every single moment of being a new mom. Interestingly, my scientist brain saw raising a baby similar to conducting research, as I read literature on parenting and investigated a series of concepts with my baby. Now he has new learning opportunities spending time with children his age, and I am very excited to be return to the world of academic science.

Thank you to the BCSC for your trainee support!
– Tahereh Vakili, MSc Candidate
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre



Could blocking certain proteins prevent lung metastasis of breast cancer?

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Hello everyone! My name is Sami Khankhan
and I’m an MSc candidate in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University. I work under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan at London Regional Cancer Program.

The main focus of our lab is breast cancer metastasis, the process by which cancerous cells can leave the breast and establish tumours in other organs. Metastasis accounts for over 90 per cent of all breast cancer-related deaths by directly impairing function of organs such as the lungs. Over a century ago, Dr. Stephen Paget postulated that like a plant seed which requires rich, nutritious soil to grow, breast cancer cells need specific factors present within an organ to be able to survive and develop into a tumour.

My work over the past year has involved researching E- and P-selectin, two proteins present in the lung that appear to be involved in attracting breast cancer cells to this organ. With the promising results we have seen so far, we intend to perform further experiments to evaluate whether blocking these proteins could prevent lung metastasis of breast cancer. Successfully limiting lung metastasis could not only reduce the number of deaths caused by breast cancer, but also allow more patients to live long, fulfilling lives.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

-Sami Khan, MSc Candidate

Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre


Almond Coleslaw

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1 savoy cabbage, thinly sliced (~8 cups)
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
1 small onion, thinly sliced into ½ moons
1 tsp. of grated ginger
Juice of 1/2 a lime
2 Tbsp. of apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. of Bragg’s soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp. of sesame oil
2 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup of slivered almonds
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ginger, garlic, vinegar, Braggs or tamari, lime juice, oil, and green onions in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk and set aside. Combine cabbage, onion, and cilantro in a large bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage and combine. Top with almonds and Enjoy!!

Courtesy of:
Dr. Natasha Zajmalowski, ND
Proactive Healthcare


Does stress affect breast cancer tumour growth?

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Jenna Kara

Jenna Kara in the Dept. of Medical Biophysics at Western University

Hello! My name is Jenna Kara and I’m an MSc student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University, working in the labs of Paula Foster, PhD and Dwayne Jackson, PhD.

Studies have found relationships between elevated stress and poor survival in cancer patients. I study how stress affects breast cancer tumour growth and progression.

During stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases a substance called neuropeptide Y (NPY). NPY binds to receptors in the body, and we’ve shown that NPY can make breast cancer cells grow faster and make blood vessels form (which is important for tumour growth).

Interestingly, women with family histories of breast cancer tend to have greater sympathetic neurotransmitter release under normal living conditions.

My work tests three breast cancer cell types of varying aggressiveness for expression of NPY receptors, and measures their growth in response to NPY treatment.

In addition, I’m using MRI cell tracking to monitor tumour growth progression and metastasis. In this study we look to see if blocking the target receptors of NPY blunts tumour growth and spread.

This research could uncover NPY receptors as potential drug targets, providing patients with a better risk assessment of cancer recurrence.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
– Jenna Kara, MSc student
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre


Cancer stem cells: a unique approach to assessing breast cancer metastasis

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Ashkan Sadri

Sadri in the Dept. of Anatomy and Cell Biology

Hello! My name is Ashkan Sadri and I’m a Masters candidate in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University. As a recent addition to Dr. Alison Allan’s lab at London Regional Cancer Program, today marks the first time you’ll be hearing from me!

What most intrigued me about the work conducted in Dr. Allan’s lab was the translational relevance of ongoing projects, but further, their unique approach to assessing human breast cancer spread (metastasis) through a cancer stem cell (CSC) perspective.

Stem cells are best known for their regenerative potential, which coincides with characteristics found in stem-like tumour cells.

Our previous studies have shown that certain breast cancer CSCs preferentially migrate and/or metastasize to the lungs and bones, where secondary tumours can severely impede organ function; the specific role of these organs in promoting metastasis, however, remains poorly understood. This is where I get involved.

Currently, I’m investigating the potential of the bone and lung microenvironments to promote stem-like traits in human breast cancer cells. Understanding how these microenvironments affect tumour cells could hold the key to intervening with breast cancer metastasis and tumour development altogether.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
– Ashkan Sadri
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre


Implementing a robotic arm to image breast tumours

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Lawrence Yip

Lawrence Yip implementing a robotic arm

Hello! My name is Lawrence Yip and I’m a Master’s student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I work at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dr. Jeffrey Carson’s Optics Lab.

You might have seen Ivan Kosik’s blog posts describing his work in improving the success rate of breast-conserving surgery. I’m working on the next generation of Ivan’s imaging system. Specifically, I’m designing, building and implementing a new imaging system that uses a novel robotic arm and custom sensors to more accurately image breast tumours.

As a first-year Master’s student, the past year has been a great journey and learning experience. Whether it’s figuring out how to use a 3D printer or getting lost in the hospital, every day there is something new to discover. I’m very excited to build a system that has so much potential to help breast cancer patients!

This past month, at London Health Research Day, I was able to attend my first conference and present a poster on my work! It was an exciting day.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
Lawrence Yip, MSc Candidate
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre


Using MRI to detect TAM cells

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Ashley Makela, PhD candidate

Hi! My name is Ashley Makela and I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I’m working at Robarts Research Institute in Dr. Paula Foster’s lab where MRI cell tracking is a main focus.

My research involves using MRI to detect and quantify specific cells called tumour associated macrophages (TAMs), which are associated with cancer. The presence of these cells in breast cancer correlates with an aggressive tumour, metastasis (the spread of the primary tumour to distant sites in the body) and a poor patient prognosis.

We’re excited because our imaging has been telling us a lot about the breast cancer tumour microenvironment – for instance, we can visualize these cells within a mouse model of breast cancer. The ability to do this may produce important information about the influence of TAMs on tumour growth and metastatic spread, and give insight on how to use this information to aid in detection, prognosis and treatment evaluation.

The next few months will be exciting ones! I’ll be busy writing a research paper and will be presenting my research at the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine conference in Singapore this May.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
Ashley Makela, PhD Candidate
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre


Examining how breast cancer tumour ‘seeds’ travel to other organs

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Mauricio Rodriguez-Torres

Mauricio Rodriguez-Torres

Hello! I’m Mauricio Rodriguez-Torres and I’m a PhD student in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University, working under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan.

Most breast cancer deaths occur as a result of metastasis, the process whereby tumour cells leave the breast through the bloodstream and establish themselves in other organs. These metastatic tumours are often difficult to find and have an increased capacity for therapy resistance.

Furthermore, there is strong scientific evidence indicating that not all tumour cells have an equal ability to seed themselves in distant organs. In particular, a very aggressive group of breast tumour cells, also known as breast cancer stem cells, have been found to display an increased ability to form metastasis.

We’re identifying the molecular factors utilized by these tumour seeds to enter, be planted and thrive in distant organs. The identification and subsequent interference of the action of these factors with new drugs has the potential to improve breast cancer treatment by blocking the lethal seeding activity of breast cancer to distant vital organs, such as the lung.

Because so many breast cancer patients die from metastasis affecting their vital organs, we’re aiming to identify and control the tumour cells responsible for metastatic behavior.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
Mauricio Rodriguez-Torres, PhD student
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre


Mark and Rebecca’s Mother’s Day Walk Story

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Mark and Rebecca Fillier

Hi! Our names are Mark and Rebecca Fillier. We were recently married on September 19, 2015. We had a very happy life together in the past 8 years and had planned on continuing having a happy life after our wedding but life has had some different plans for us. We are still happy together but now we have a fight on our hands.

In December 2015, Rebecca found out she had Breast Cancer. The doctor decided they would perform a lumpectomy and she would undergo some radiation treatments and should be all good.

Well it didn’t end up being that simple!!

After some further consultations with different doctors we were informed that surgery was not an option and it was Stage 4 advanced Triple Negative Breast Cancer. We were told that there was no cure. Without treatment she had less than 1 year to live and with treatment she had 2 years to live at best.

Rebecca was ready to fight this battle head on. She informed the doctor that she was going to prove him wrong. She told him that she has too much to still accomplish in her life and will not allow this to beat her. Further testing also revealed metastases to her liver, kidney and 2 spots on her bones (one in the area of the tumor in the chest wall, the other in the right side of her pelvis).

Rebecca has already watched her mom go through Breast Cancer and become a survivor. She was so strong and this has given her the strength she has today to fight this monster. My love, support and dedication in Rebecca’s battle with this disease also keeps her strong.

Shortly after Rebecca started her chemo treatments, the news was good and bad. While the tumors in the breast and chest wall had not grown, the other areas were still growing. Her new treatments started April 15, and so far the side effects have been much worse. Regardless of this, she is staying positive and is still working at her job putting in as many hours as she can. Her strength and positive attitude continues to amaze me and helps to keep me strong and positive as well.

Now while this is Rebecca’s battle I could not just sit on the sidelines and watch. I started looking at different things on the internet, reading up on breast cancer and treatments etc. and came across a link for the Mother’s Day Walk in support of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. This is when I decided that this is one way I can support my wife’s battle and I would take part in the 5km walk on May 1st 2016.

While I can’t cure the cancer that Rebecca has I can offer her my full love, support and my dedication to the Mother’s Day Walk to fund research. This could possibly lead to finding a cure for my wife and many other women.

pink chocolates

Fundraising chocolates

When I first signed up for the walk here in Ottawa at the Carlingwood Mall I had set my fundraising goal at $2500.00. After amazing support from my friends, family and co-workers, I have now surpassed $5000.00. I am not stopping there. In an effort to increase my fundraising, I also decided to make some chocolates using a mold in the shape of the iconic ribbon. Since this is for breast cancer, I used pink chocolate, of course! With the incentive offered for the top fundraiser (A Cruise for Two), I plan on continuing my fundraising to ensure that I can take my wife on the honeymoon that we have yet to have.

Rebecca and I would like to say ‘Thank you’ to each and every one of you for your support to this cause. The efforts made by all in the Mother’s Day Walk to support of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada in funding research we will one day find a cure for wife and the many other strong women out there fighting every day!!!!

Hope for the Fighters
Peace for the Survivors
Prayers for the Taken

– Mark and Rebecca Fillier, Team Nepean Fighters