The Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Research saves lives!
Breast Cancer Ribbon

Targeting tumours the FAST way

posted by:
Neil W

Hello! We are Brent Johnston and Roy Duncan, Professors in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Dalhousie University. We have received funding from the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and the QEII Foundation through the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute, to investigate the use of viruses to target advanced and metastatic breast cancer.

Targeting tumours the FAST way, Breast Cancer Society of CanadaOncolytic viruses are engineered to selectively infect cancer cells by taking advantage of altered signalling pathways that result from cancer cell mutations. Oncolytic viruses not only kill tumour cells directly, they also stimulate the immune system to recognize and target the remaining cancer cells. Dr. Duncan has generated a novel oncolytic virus expressing a Fusion-Associated Small Transmembrane (FAST) protein. This protein helps the virus spread between tumour cells better, leading to greater infection and killing of cultured cancer cells. We are investigating how well FAST oncolytic viruses target breast cancer tumours and whether modified viruses can enhance stimulation of the immune system to target metastatic cancer cells. FAST viruses are also being combined with other therapeutic approaches that boost the function of the immune system further.

We are very excited that our approaches are generating promising results, and hope that his research will help establish new therapies to target advanced and metastatic breast cancer.

We thank the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, the QEll Foundation, and the generous donors for giving us the opportunity to do this work.


Towards breast cancer detection with nanoprobes

posted by:
Neil W

Greetings! My name is Antonio Benayas. As some of you can perhaps remember from a previous post , I am a postdoc at Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, working to develop novel near infrared nanoprobes part of Professor Fiorenzo Vetrone’s group. It is the right time to summarize what has been accomplished during my term as CIHR-BCSC fellow.

Nanoparticles researchers at CSACS

Nanoparticles-related researchers at CSACS meeting (Montreal, QC May 2016). From left to right: INRS PhD student Artiom Skripka, myself, INRS-Venice U. PhD Student Riccardo Marin, and our colleague Concordia U. PhD student Paola Rojas.

Accordingly to our job at the academic research stage, my contribution is to develop a pool of … let us call them “discreet spies”! Ultra-small entities (nanoparticles) adapted to inject in to humans and can effectively navigate through the blood stream. They will be able to report the presence and evolution of tumors, in a non-invasive way (harmlessly emitting light). In this multi-lane “assembly line” inside the nanomedicines´ factory, the multidisciplinary group led by Prof. Vetrone is setting the chassis, transmission, and wheels. All those pieces are not called upon in a “common car”, but in a very customized one for cancer imaging and detection.

When our role is done, we passed the vehicle to the next workstation (in other words, communicating it to the scientific community). Then is the time of physicians/oncologists to test the different vessels provided, and to pick up the best among them to move ahead to clinical implementation, step by step. Although my combat takes place in a battleground far away from the bedside of cancer patients, I firmly believe it is very important to keep digging at the basic science level. That way, we provide those closer-to-the-cancer-patient researchers with the best possible weapons to map the extinction of the disease, advancing the fight against it. I am glad to inform you that our published results has advanced the state-of-the-art towards low-dose in vivo nanoprobes successfully tested in mice. Moreover, several kinds of “spies” also show the capacity to measure the temperature of their surroundings. That key feature has indeed allowed our best nanoprobes to carry out a real-time monitoring of heat-based eradication of superficial tumors on live specimens, thus avoiding any damage to healthy tissues around the tumor.

But there are other kinds of assets and progress that I would like to share with you. First, throughout my BCSC-funded term, I devoted my best efforts to set up a cutting-edge microscopy facility* in the relatively young group of Prof. Vetrone at INRS. That in-house tool expands the possibility to test at the cellular level our nano-spies right after we synthesize them. Like in any other human endeavor, workflow efficiency is important. In a different note, we have created new forums to share with the pure Materials Science community, the relevance of body-penetrating near-infrared wavelengths. We are bringing additional minds and resources to the joint venture of pursuing a better non-invasive imaging of breast cancer and other diseases.

Finally, my aim guiding these few lines is to also emphasize what will remain after my departure. In fact, the team I helped to assembly will work further on getting better nanoprobes “to spy” for the appearance of (breast) cancer tumors. In that regard, I have been fortunate enough to mentor and work, shoulder to shoulder, with well-trained and highly motivated young scientists such as Riccardo Marin and Artiom Skripka (picture above). They now carry the torch, and I foresee more exciting results to come that will help the crusade against breast cancer.
Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
– Antonio Benayas (Ph.D.),
Postdoctoral Researcher (Eileen Iwanicki Fellow 12/2013-11/2016; CIHR-BCSC)

(*) That venture was undergone in close cooperation with a small but very ambitious Canadian optics company (Photon Etc.).


Receptor for Hyaluronan-Mediated Motility or RHAMM

posted by:
Neil W

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.

Alexandra Hauser-Kawaguchi - BCSC Breast Cancer ResearcherFor the past few years, I have been studying the protein RHAMM (Receptor for Hyaluronan-Mediated Motility). RHAMM levels increase in response to fragmentation of the compound hyaluronan (HA), which ultimately results in the spread of cancer and thus poorer outcomes for breast cancer patients.

We have recently been developing stapled peptides as RHAMM mimics. “Stapled” peptides are compounds that have been partially cyclized, giving them the appearance of having a “stapled” backbone. This “stapling” allows the peptide to circulate through the body longer than it would otherwise. This is ideal, as our RHAMM mimics are part of a drug discovery initiative, in which we have shown that they are able to block inflammation associated with breast cancer relating to fragmented HA. The RHAMM mimics could also help stop the disease from spreading to other parts of the body.

In September of 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the 34th European Peptide Symposium and 8th International Peptide Symposium in Leipzig, Germany. I was one of eight chosen to give an oral presentation in front of 700 scientists. This experience was frightening but also thrilling, and the high point of my graduate student career to date. After meeting with and learning from experts in the field, I returned to the lab full of new ideas on how to make our compounds better drugs for treating breast cancer.

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


Understanding how the estrogen receptor impacts breast cancer

posted by:

Hello! My name is Bart Kolendowski and I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry at Western University. I work in Dr. Joe Torchia’s lab located at London Regional Cancer Program.
Bart KolendowskiDuring my tenure as a Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit (TBCRU) scholarship recipient, I have focused my research on understanding how the estrogen receptor, a common target during breast cancer therapy, impacts breast cancer. By developing our understanding of how the estrogen receptor functions, we not only learn about how certain breast cancer therapies work but also why they may fail. With the support of TBCRU funding I have been able to advance our understanding of estrogen-mediated gene-expression, identifying previously unknown mechanisms that drive breast cancer development.

This work has been well received and has given me the opportunity to present my findings at prestigious conferences, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research National Student Research Competition held at the University of Winnipeg. I was also selected for an oral presentation at the international Keystone Symposia on Nuclear Receptors held in Snowbird, Utah. I am excited as my research is currently being compiled into a manuscript for submission to an academic journal to be shared with a broader audience.

In addition to helping advance my research, the TBCRU scholarship has promoted researchers’ engagement with the community through events like the Breast Cancer Society of Canada’s Mother’s Day Walk. These events allow researchers to meet and hear the stories of survivors and their families while also giving us an opportunity to share our work with them, successfully bridging the world of research with the people it impacts.


What’s my Breast Cancer Story?

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Antoine Abugaber of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada shares his story

As a cancer researcher and an international renowned artist, I want to be able to one day say “we have finally found a cure for breast cancer. That really would be an amazing day.”

Antoine Abugaber - Breast Cancer Society of Canada Board Chair

Today, I serve on the BCSC’s board because I want to make a difference. I want to save the lives of breast cancer patients and decided, long ago, to use my scientific knowledge to do so.

So what’s my story? It really isn’t unique. We all have family members, friends, work colleagues and neighbours that are suffering or have suffered from this disease. And we’ve unfortunately lost many of them too. Knowing that 1 in 9 women will likely develop breast cancer in her lifetime—that is a startling statistic that needs to change.

As a researcher, I have been able to contribute to the international clinical development of five breast cancer drugs that have improved the survival rate in thousands of patients around the world and I am humbled by that personal and professional accomplishment. Today, I continue my life journey as the Board Chair of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada—an organization dedicated to patient-focused research that continues to make a significant difference in the lives of people suffering and surviving breast cancer.

BCSC works with organizations, institutions, research groups and individuals in an effort to cure all manifestations of breast cancer. We have made great strides, but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. Putting an end to breast cancer can only be achieved through research, which is why BCSC is focused on funding breast cancer research and care across Canada.

There is hope. And we can do this. Let’s work together to make it happen.


Imaging biomarkers in treatment of breast cancer with high-dose radiation therapy

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My name is Matthew Mouawad. I am a third-year PhD student in the department of Medical Biophysics at Western University working under the supervision of Drs. Stewart Gaede and Neil Gelman.

Matthew Mouawad, CAMPEP PhD candidate Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre

With the high prevalence of breast cancers (1 in 9 women) in North America, we need to find ways to minimize the emotional and physical burden on patients and explore more efficient treatment techniques. Currently, breast-conserving therapies will often include five weeks of post-surgery radiotherapy, which can be prohibitively long for many patients. Furthermore, we currently do not have methods to non-invasively evaluate tumour control at an early stage.

To address these two limitations, London Regional Cancer Program is conducting a clinical trial headed by Drs. Muriel Brackstone, Michael Lock, and Brian Yaremko that is looking to reduce treatment time from five weeks to a single session, using high-dose radiotherapy. My role in this project is to use imaging we acquire from the hybrid PET-MRI at St. Joseph’s hospital to assess tumour control within seven days of treatment! The treatment technique would minimize patient burden significantly and the imaging would allow us to explore alternative ways to treat patients and potentially allow for adaptive patient treatment techniques.

We have successfully treated 14 patients using the new high-dose radiotherapy technique and have developed an imaging protocol that will allow us to investigate various tumour biomarkers. I look forward to presenting the most recent results in an manuscript within the next few months.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

– Matthew Mouawad, CAMPEP PhD candidate

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



New Directors Join Breast Cancer Society of Canada

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BCSC News Release

Toronto, ON (January 11, 2017) ~ The Breast Cancer Society of Canada (BCSC), the mission of which is to save lives through breast cancer research, recently elected six new directors to serve on its national board.

“Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Canadian women and BCSC has and is doing everything it can to change that,” said Antoine Abugaber, Chair of the Board.  “Our new directors are a wonderful addition to our existing board—they all bring a wealth of experience and expertise in their fields and will be tremendous assets as we further our mission of saving the lives of partners, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, neighbours and colleagues—Canadian women who are battling or will battle breast cancer in their lifetime.”

Joining the board is:

  • Michael Ford is a Senior Financial Executive with more than 25 years of financial and operational leadership expertise in the technology and telecommunications sector. He has extensive experience in raising debt and equity, enhancing working capital and strengthening profitability through business process improvement and revenue generation support.
  • Marc Guay is a Corporate Director and Executive Advisor/Coach at Presidents of Enterprising Organizations. He currently serves on both corporate and not-for-profit boards and is former President of Frito Lay Canada/PepsiCo Foods Canada.
  • Jeffrey McCully is a lawyer and President of Charity Consult, which assists charitable organizations in their Advancement operations, including evaluation of their systems of corporate governance. For more than 20 years, he has held senior positions in the charitable sector, advising multi-level institutions in their major gift fundraising and strategic planning.
  • Kathy Steffan is a partner and leader of Welch LLP’s Toronto office, a firm that offers a full range of accounting, assurance, tax, advisory and specialty services. She provides assurance and advisory services to For-Profit, Not-for-Profit and Government-funded organizations and has been involved in a number of IPOs.
  • Debbie Stojanovic is a marketing and communication executive with more than 25 years of professional services expertise.  She is the National Marketing Director, Audit and Governance Program, for KPMG Canada, a Canadian and international leader in delivering audit, tax and advisory services.
  • Sabrina Faust Zúñiga is a Management Consultant and President of SFZ Leadership, focusing on needs assessment, research, facilitation and team building for corporations and not-for-profit organizations. She is recognized for helping organizations and individuals discover, develop and expand the range of their talents and find personal and professional successes.

Existing board members include Antoine Abugaber, Janice Bannister, Jacqueline Middleton, Elke Rubach and Sandy Whyte. The BCSC’s board of directors provide counsel and guidance on the direction and operation of the organization in achieving its goal—putting an end to breast cancer.

For more information about the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, visit


The Breast Cancer Society of Canada is a registered, national, nonprofit, charitable organization dedicated to saving lives through breast cancer research.

For more information please visit For further information: Breast Cancer Society of Canada, National Manager of Digital Marketing and Social Media: Neil Wiernik 416-702-6940,

Download a copy this release


Retinoic Acid maybe an effective therapy

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Dr Paola MarcatoI am Dr. Paola Marcato, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology at Dalhousie University. the Canadian Breast Cancer Society, the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute and the QEII Foundation, have funded my research lab and colleagues: Drs. Carman Giacomantonio, Lucy Helyer and Ian Weaver.

Our research is to  investigate if a vitamin A metabolite, retinoic acid may be an effective therapy for certain triple-negative breast cancer patients. Retinoic acid is a highly effective treatment for acute promyelocytic leukemia; however, when retinoic acid was applied generally to treat other cancers, including breast cancer it was not effective.

Our data suggests that retinoic acid-based therapy was not successful in the treatment of breast cancer because it was applied to all cancer patients, without considering key differences between individual patient tumors. Our data suggests that there are specific and measurable criteria that can predict if a triple-negative breast cancer tumor will respond well to retinoic acid treatment.

We propose experiments that will identify and measure these qualities in triple-negative breast cancer patients. Furthermore, we will use a pre-clinical model to test how effective our prediction tools are in determining tumor response to retinoic acid.

Completion of this project will lead to improved treatment for triple-negative breast cancer patients and hence the improved survival of these patients currently lacking targeted therapy options.



A Student Exchange Program: Understanding breast cancer using laboratory models

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Vasuveda Bhat and Dr. Alison Allan, in Dr. Allan’s lab at the London Regional Cancer Program.

Hello! My name is Vasudeva Bhat, PhD candidate in the Department of Immunology, under the guidance of Dr. Afshin Raouf at Regenerative Medicine Program/Cancercare Manitoba

Our lab is interested in investigating the molecular mechanisms involved in regulating the regenerative potential of normal mammary stem cells and how alterations in them produce tumors. In short we want to understand NORMAL to define ABNORMAL. Our studies have identified a key molecule which plays an important role in regulating cells fate during breast tissue regeneration and we believe that altered function of this molecule could potentially lead to breast cancer.

In order to further explore my interest in breast cancer I was given the opportunity to visit Dr. Alison Allan’s lab at London Regional Cancer Program in Ontario to better understand breast cancer using novel laboratory models.

Under Dr. Allan’s supervision I was able to learn techniques to decipher the ability of breast cancer cells to acquire stem-like characteristics. In addition, I also gained expertise in 2D and 3D ex vivo models to elucidate the potential of these cancer cells in promoting tumor development and spread.

I believe that the experience gained here will help in better understanding of breast cancer as a disease and design therapeutic strategies to treat patients.

Thank you Breast Cancer Society of Canada for your generous support of this trainee exchange program.

Vasudeva Bhat, PhD Candidate
Dr. Raouf Lab, University of Manitoba

Dr. Alison Allan (exchange program supervisor)
London Regional Cancer Program


3rd Biennial International Cancer Research Conference

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3rd Biennial International Cancer Research Conference

Hi all! My name is Milica Krstic and I am a PhD student within the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Western University. I work in Dr. Ann Chambers’ and Dr. Alan Tuck’s lab located at London Health Sciences Centre’s London Regional Cancer Program.

You may have seen my previous blog posts where I discussed my work studying how and why early breast cancer lesions progress to invasive cancer.

On November 19th, I travelled to my hometown of Windsor, Ontario to attend the 3rd Biennial International Cancer Research Conference hosted by the Windsor Cancer Research Group. I was invited to give an oral presentation about my research, focusing on a protein called TBX3 and the molecular mechanisms by which it promotes breast cancer progression [picture shown above]. In the audience were several experts across multiple disciplines, including research scientists (from both biology and chemistry-related fields), pathologists, oncologists, industry professionals and so on. The oral presentations and poster presentations were fascinating and great at fostering scientific discussion. I’m glad that I attended this conference and would suggest it to others as well!

The goal of my research project is to be able to predict which early breast cancer lesions will progress to invasion – this would allow us to stratify patients into risk groups, which would ultimately influence treatment strategies. I have begun the fourth year of my PhD training and work towards this goal every day!

Previous blog posts from Milica Krstic