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Archive for the ‘Researcher’s Blog’ Category

Photoacoustic Imaging Research

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Hello, my name is Lawrence Yip, and I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I work at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dr. Jeff Carson’s lab where I am developing a new imaging technology called Photoacoustic Imaging to help treat breast cancer.

Lawrence Yip Photoacoustic Imaging ResearchPhotoacoustic acoustic imaging uses short pulses of laser light to excite materials which cause them to generate their own sound waves that we can detect. This allows us to utilize the advantages of both ultrasound and optical (light) imaging. We are working on implementing photoacoustic imaging with the detection of tumour margins in breast-conserving surgery after the tumours are removed from the breast.

I’ve just about finished building the hardware for this imaging system, and this past year has been primarily spent troubleshooting various problems that came up, such as water getting into the system and electrical noise interfering with our results. I’m excited to start imaging objects later this month!

In December of 2016, I decided that I wanted to continue working on this project, and completed my reclassification to switch my MSc degree to PhD.  It was a daunting thought to commit another three years, but I’m also excited at the progress that this will allow me to achieve. I’ve also been encouraged by the interest I’ve seen in my work at several conferences these past few months, and I’ve also had the privilege of winning two poster presentation awards.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

-Lawrence Yip, PhD candidate

Editors Note:
Lawrence Yip, and many other breast cancer researchers across Canada are the reason why we walk every year at our annual Mother’s Day Walk, because research matters. Find our more about our annual fundraiser, sponsor someone or register to walk. Find out more at mothersdaywalk.ca

Developing a molecular imaging technique using MRI

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Hello, My name is Yonathan Araya, I am 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.

Yonathan Araya Breast Cancer ResearcherDr. Scholl’s lab focuses on developing advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques for use with novel molecular imaging probes of cancers. These molecular imaging probes are important tools to help oncologists map enzymes, proteins and amino acids, which are difficult to detect using conventional MRI methods and are linked to different cancers. The new methods (collectively known as molecular imaging) would help to assess solid tumours and measure their response to treatment.

The focus of my project has been developing a molecular imaging technique using MRI for the detection of specific proteins and cell-based interactions in breast cancers. I exploit the specific magnetic field dependence of tissues and contrast agents using our fast field-cycling magnet (which we call ‘dreMR’) to assess the metabolism and inflammatory response of solid breast cancer tumours. Last year, I described in our findings that there was a weak magnetic field dependence of tissues at clinical magnetic field strengths and that we can exploit this information to characterize cancerous tissues. The work was submitted to a scientific journal.

Currently, our lab is interested in measuring the up-regulation of serum albumin and the increased inflammatory response associated with the poor prognosis breast cancers and quantifying the changes in response to therapeutic treatment. This work is ongoing at the University Hospital and Robarts Research Institute.

Thank you for your trainee support!

– Yonathan Araya, PhD candidate

MRI cell tracking for breast cancer

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Hi, My name is Ashley Makela and I am a PhD candidate in the department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I am working at Robarts Research Institute in Dr. Paula Foster’s lab where our main focus is to develop magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to “track” cells.

Ashley Makela - Breast Cancer ResearcherMy research involves using this MRI cell tracking specifically in breast cancer. Doing so, we can image specific cells called tumour associated macrophages (TAMs) and with this, we can get both information about the primary tumour and also visualize where the cancer spreads within the body (metastasis). We believe these cells are important to learn more about; their presence helps the tumour grow, allows the cancer to metastasize and they are associated with a poor prognosis in the majority of breast cancer cases. This research 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.

I’ve recently published my first research article and I’m looking forward to presenting my findings in Honolulu this April at the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support.

– Ashley Makela, PhD Candidate

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

Targeting tumours the FAST way

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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

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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 http://csacs.mcgill.ca (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

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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

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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.

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

 

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