Date

The Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Research saves lives!
Breast Cancer Ribbon

Using MRI to detect TAM cells

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Makela

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

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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

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Mark and Rebecca’s Mother’s Day Walk Story

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markrebecca

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

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A potential tool to differentiate between malignant tumours and benign tissue in MRI

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Administrator

Yonathan ArayaHello! My name is Yonathan Araya and I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I work in the Imaging Research Laboratories at Robarts Research Institute under the supervision Dr. Timothy Scholl.

One of the disadvantages of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the lack of specificity and sensitivity to distinguish between malignant tumours and benign tissue, and the different stages of tumour progression. One way to address this shortcoming is targeted magnetic resonance contrast-agent approaches, whereby a contrast agent binds to specific proteins or receptors.

I’ve been imaging the specific magnetic field dependence of tissues and quantifying their intrinsic magnetic resonance properties using our fast field-cycling magnet. This work is ongoing at the University Hospital 1.5 Tesla MRI suite. The application of a fast field-cycling MRI allows us to observe the targeted contrast agent when it binds to the protein/receptor, suppressing the untargeted agent and background tissue. This is a potential tool to differentiate between normal and cancerous breast tissues.

Our preliminary findings have shown an inherent weak magnetic field dependence of healthy tissues. This is important as we study atypical or cancerous tissues, which may have a significantly greater magnetic field dependence and may be highlighted by a targeted contrast agent.

Thank you for your trainee support!
Yonathan Araya, PhD candidate
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre

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Celebrating National Volunteer Week 2016

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Administrator

national volunteer week
Author and physician, Dr. Rachel Remen sums up the meaning of service very distinctly: “True service is a relationship between people who bring the full resource of their combined humanity to the table and share them generously. Service is another way of life … service is a relationship between equals … In helping, we may find a sense of satisfaction … in serving we have an experience of gratitude.”

Volunteerism truly relates to the giving and receiving of resources. The act itself embodies the sharing of passion, skills, time, talents, stories of survivorship, inspiration and so much more. Whether you are a leader of volunteers, a volunteer or the recipient of volunteer efforts, you know firsthand the impact of this selfless service.

In my role at the Breast Cancer Society, I am truly awed by our volunteers and their passion to move our mission forward. They inspire me daily not just with the gift of their time but with their generosity of spirit. Everyone who has ever been affected by breast cancer has benefited directly or indirectly from the support of volunteers.  I am also inspired by the Breast Cancer Society’s leadership and Board of Directors. Their unwavering support strategies strengthen volunteer engagement and the development of standards for involving individuals in meaningful ways that meet everyone’s needs.

National Volunteer Week is one of my favourite weeks! It is a time when organizations collectively celebrate over 12.7 million volunteers in Canada while promoting volunteerism as a whole. It is also a wonderful opportunity for professionals in the management and leadership of volunteers to connect, plan and execute local and provincial recognition events. While ongoing gratitude is always given to our own team of volunteers, National Volunteer Week lends us the opportunity to shout THANK YOU from the rooftop!

Johanne Deschamps
Coordinator of Volunteer Resources

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How do breast cancer cells move through the body?

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Administrator
Drs. Desnoyer and Lewis

Drs. Desnoyer and Lewis at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute in Moncton, NB

Drs. Desnoyers and Lewis are working to understand how breast cancer cells can move throughout the body. Breast cancer becomes more aggressive when normal breast cells change to become invasive by a process called epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Following EMT, breast cancer cells can move throughout the body and spread the tumor, an event known as metastasis. In recent years, small molecules called miRNA have been shown to be important in the regulation of EMT and the formation of metastases. Given that miRNAs are fairly easy to detect from biological fluids, they are currently employed as cancer biomarkers.

Drs. Desnoyers and Lewis want to characterize the way these miRNAs contribute to EMT to provide a better understanding of how breast cancer metastasis is regulated, with the goal of identifying novel miRNAs involved in the regulation of EMT and breast cancer metastasis.

Through their research, Drs. Desnoyers and Lewis hope to gain a better understanding of EMT and the metastatic process, which may lead to the identification of novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. In addition, the novel miRNAs that they identify in their study could be suitable biomarkers to help in the early detection of metastatic breast cancer.

 

Dr. Guillaume Desnoyers and Dr. Stephen Lewis at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute in Moncton, New Brunswick received funding from the Breast Cancer Society of Canada through a partnership with the QEll Foundation and the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute.

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Attempting to inhibit breast cancer proliferation

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Administrator
Hauser-Kawaguchi

Alexandra Hauser-Kawaguchi in the lab

Hi everyone! My name is Alexandra Hauser-Kawaguchi and I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry at Western University. I work in Dr. Len Luyt’s lab at London Health Sciences Centre’s London Regional Cancer Program.

You may remember seeing my blog post last year.

Since then, I’ve continued to study the interactions between the mini-protein known as 7 kDa RHAMM and the molecules called peptide ligands. If we can discover a peptide that has better binding to 7 kDa RHAMM than the natural ligand, we can potentially inhibit the actions that lead to breast cancer proliferation.

It’s taken a while, but we’ve finally found that the best way to study these interactions is by using the technique called surface plasmon resonance, which studies the binding interactions in real time.

This past year has been an exciting one outside the lab as well. I presented my work at the Boulder Peptide Symposium in September, where I also learned about some interesting new techniques. I’ve already started using some of them in the lab … updates to come in my next blog post!

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
Alexandra Hauser-Kawaguchi, PhD candidate
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre

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How I aim to live green

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Kimberly kayaking in the Georgian Bay

Kimberly kayaking in the Georgian Bay

Because I am a woman, I am at risk for breast cancer.  However, there are many “green” things I can do in my everyday life that will help reduce my risk.

Kayaking, hiking, fishing and scuba diving are some of my favourite hobbies, however, when I can’t do these activities, I always make time to get outside and exercise. Since I spend most of my work day at my desk it’s really important for me to spend an hour outside each day walking my dogs.

According to a 2013 study of 73,000 women, walking vigorously for one hour a day can reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer up to 25%. This study shows a very important link between exercise and breast cancer, and it is a great motivator for me to continue my daily exercise and personal fitness routine.

Another important factor to living green and reducing my risk of breast cancer is my diet. I eat plenty of fresh fruit and veggies every day, especially breast-healthy veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms.  Over the years I have completely phased out processed food; I strive to eat a plant-based diet which is good for the environment and for my body.

It’s not always easy, but choosing the healthier and greener options will also help reduce your risk of breast cancer.

Visit the Healthy Living section on our website to learn more about reducing your risk of breast cancer through exercise and nutrition.

Kimberly Carson, CEO

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Helping breast surgeons increase the success rate of breast-conserving surgery

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Administrator

Hi! My name is Ivan Kosik and I’m a PhD student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University, working in the lab of Jeff Carson, PhD.  You might have seen my first blog in January 2015 where I outlined our strategy to increase the success rate of breast-conserving surgery by developing an imaging system that can help surgeons ensure that complete tumour removal was achieved on the first try.

Ivan Kosik, student researcher

Ivan Kosik, student researcher

I’m pleased to say we’ve made great strides in the effort to translate our technology from bench to bedside, accelerating towards the day when we can directly impact patients’ lives.  We’ve adapted our imager to fit within the OR and have been actively working with Dr. Muriel Brackstone.  To date we’ve imaged 80 specimens with very encouraging results, and have even attracted the attention of a medical device company interested in commercializing our technology.  This is very exciting because it represents a potential leap towards improving the standard of care for all breast cancer patients.

In the near future I hope to bring attention to our technology through conference presentations where I can reach a broader audience of surgeons and medical professionals.

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

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Why do some early breast cancers progress to deadly cancer and others do not?

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milica krstic

Milica Krstic in the TBCRU Lab

Hi! My name is Milica Krstic. I’m a PhD student in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Western University. I work at London Regional Cancer Program under the supervision of Ann Chambers, PhD, and Alan Tuck, MD/PhD.

I’m studying a protein called TBX3 and its role in early stages of breast cancer. It has been shown that TBX3 levels are higher in several types of cancer, but its role in breast cancer progression is not yet understood.

I’ve shown that elevating TBX3 levels in early breast cancer cells causes them to become more aggressive in cell lines and animal models. Women with early breast cancers (termed DCIS or ductal carcinoma in situ) have a 10-times-higher risk for developing invasive cancer than woman without DCIS history. However, why some lesions progress and others don’t is not yet understood.

I’ve studied expression of this protein in 200 breast cancer patient samples to see if TBX3 levels predict for whether these tumours will progress. I’m also studying the mechanism by which TBX3 promotes cancer progression.

Understanding this mechanism may lead to new treatment targets to inhibit TBX3 signaling pathways for breast cancer therapy, with the aim of stopping early breast cancers from progressing to deadly cancers.

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

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