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Archive for the ‘Researcher’s Blog’ Category

Determining how proteins interact with breast cancer cells

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Hello, everyone! My name is Sami Khan and I’m an MSc candidate in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University. In Dr. Alison Allan’s laboratory at the London Regional Cancer Program, we study proteins that may be involved in the preferential metastasis (or spread) of breast cancer to the lung and the potential of these proteins to be used as targets for novel breast cancer therapies.

Sami Khan - Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit (TBCRU) scholarship recipienI am specifically interested in a family of proteins called selectins, which are normally found in the lung. Together with fellow lab members, we have demonstrated that the selectins enhance the migration or movement of breast cancer cells towards the lung. We are now in the process of determining the mechanism by which selectins interact with breast cancer cells and exert their function. Learning this will better enable us to develop strategies that can limit the spread of breast cancer cells to the lung and ultimately limit lung metastasis. These translatable findings could then be used clinically to improve breast cancer patient outcomes.

Without the funding support from the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, our research would not have been possible. As I finish up my MSc thesis, I am thankful for all the opportunities I was afforded and strongly believe that continued support from BCSC and its generous donors to researchers and trainees will lead to a breakthrough in breast cancer therapy one day soon.

Sami Khan, MSc Candidate

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

Support researchers like Sami and others by considering a donation to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Find out how you can help fund life-saving research, visit bcsc.ca/donate

 

Investigating early events in estrogen signaling

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Hi, my name is Bart Kolendowski and I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry at Western University. I currently work at the London Regional Cancer Program in Dr. Joe Torchia’s lab researching the role of the estrogen receptor in breast cancer.

The estrogen receptor is often a therapeutic target in a subset of breast cancers. My work has focused on investigating early events in estrogen signaling to better understand how therapies work and, more importantly, why they sometimes fail.

Bart-Kolendowski - BCSC - Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit (TBCRU) scholarship recipientDuring my tenure as a Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit (TBCRU) scholarship recipient, I have discovered previously unknown mechanisms that drive estrogen-dependent breast cancer. Importantly, these discoveries have led to the identification of new targets that may prove to be of therapeutic value for patients suffering from breast cancer.

I have been invited to present this work at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research National Student Research Competition held at the University of Winnipeg as well as the prestigious Keystone Symposia on Nuclear Receptors held in Snowbird, Utah.

Earlier this year, we submitted a manuscript based on my findings to a high-impact academic journal for publication. I am happy to announce that we are currently in the process of completing revisions and anticipate that the work will be published in the upcoming months!

None of this would have been possible without the continued support of the TBCRU and the Breast Cancer Society of Canada.

Thank you!

Support researchers like Bart and others by considering a donation to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Find out how you can help fund life-saving research, visit bcsc.ca/donate

What being a breast cancer researcher has taught me.

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Hello! My name is Ashkan Sadri and I’m a Masters candidate in Dr. Alison Allan’s lab in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University, just coming to the conclusion of my thesis research.

When I engage in casual conversation, the topic of graduate school and breast cancer research often arise. By far, the most common question I’m asked is: “Does a cure exist?” And to that, it’s hard to give a simple answer.

Ashkan Sadri, BCSC ResearcherWhat is difficult to communicate to those outside of the cancer research field is that, due to the complexity of cancer, it is unlikely a single cure exists. Over the past two years, the basis of my research has been to investigate whether the factors produced by different organs in the body such as bones and the lungs can promote a rare, stem-like population of breast cancer cells with heightened capacity to form metastatic tumors in these organs. Our research findings turned out to challenge our predictions, providing an important means for thinking outside of the box. Not only were the stem-like traits of breast cancer cells not promoted when exposed to the lung microenvironment, they were actually reduced. We have gone on to identify a novel subpopulation of breast cancer cells that may potentially be involved in metastasis to the lung, using pathways that are distinct from the original cancer stem cell model. Thus, when asked, about a “cure to cancer”, it’s important to consider the complex nature of cancer biology and the many unknowns that exist, emphasizing the need for valuable research to be conducted.

When confronted with a treatment, breast cancer cells often find alternative means to progress along their path. Cancer treatments are effective in blocking key pathways, but alternative routes exist that the cancer cells can utilize. This is why supporting breast cancer research is vital. Learning about different mechanisms that drive tumour development are necessary to finally get breast cancer under control. By supporting breast cancer research, researchers are able to make a global impact when it comes to gaining ground on cancer.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

– Ashkan Sadri

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

Support researchers like Ashkan and others by considering a donation to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Find out how you can help fund life-saving research, visit bcsc.ca/donate

 

Introducing New Breast Cancer Research Trainee Scholarships in London

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We are pleased to announce 13 new graduate student scholarships at Western University for the 2017-2018 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).

Translational research unit student researchers

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.  This year, seven of the trainees are PhD students, five are MSc students and one is enrolled in the joint PhD-MCISc (CAMPEP) (Commission on the Accreditation of Medical Physics Educational Programs) Accredited Program, which prepares trainees to become medical physicists.

These students are enrolled in six departments Western University (Anatomy & Cell Biology, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, Medical Biophysics, and Pathology & Laboratory Medicine).  They are working in Lawson Health Research Institute laboratories  at LRCP, St. Joseph’s Health Care London, as well as in laboratories at Western University.

Their research projects cover a wide range of important breast cancer research, ranging from basic biology of breast cancer cells to clinical studies, and all of their research is focused on improving care for breast cancer patients.  You can learn more about our trainees and details of their projects at this link.   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, funded by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Support life-saving breast cancer research

Uncovering the role of RNA in breast cancer

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My name is Thomas Huynh and I’m a Masters student in Dr. Paola Marcato’s laboratory in the Department of Pathology at Dalhousie University. The support generously provided to me by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and the QEII foundation through the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute has been invaluable in helping me pursue my research goals.

Thomas Huynh BCSC ResearcherWorking with Dejan Vidovic, a fellow graduate student in Dr. Marcato’s laboratory, our work focuses on uncovering the role of a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) discovered by Dejan in breast cancer disease. Previously dismissed as “genomic junk”, evidence is emerging that lncRNAs play a pivotal role in the development, progression and pathology of breast cancer. Our work shows that the lncRNA RAINR has an oncogenic role in breast cancer. Employing a variety of molecular technologies, we observed that knocking down expression of RAINR dramatically increases the apoptosis of breast cancer cells and decreases their proliferation, indicating its importance in disease development. We are now working towards characterizing the mechanisms behind RAINR function. This could potentially uncover a new therapeutic target for the treatment of breast cancer.

I am extremely grateful for the support provided to me for this project, as well as other opportunities to expand my graduate experience. I was afforded the opportunity to attend an international cancer conference in Florence, Italy to share my work with other high caliber researchers and was recently awarded the inaugural CRTP Collaboration Grant to start a new project studying the treatment of a subtype of leukemia in collaboration with Dr. Ian Weaver’s research group at Dalhousie University.

Thank you once again BCSC as well as the BHCRI and the QEII Foundation for your ongoing support,

Thomas Huynh

3D Surface Imaging Technique for Breast Cancer

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My name is Olivia Tong and I am a MESc candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering under Drs. Jeffrey Carson and Mamadou Diop at Lawson Health Research Institute.

BCSC Researcher - Olivia Tong - 3D Surface Imaging Technique for Breast CancerWe are developing a non-contact scanner that can monitor the blood oxygen level in the tumor during chemotherapy. The success of this project will lead to a new diagnostic method that can quickly identify the most effective chemotherapy drug for each breast cancer patient. You might have seen Lawrence Yip’s blog posts regarding Photoacoustic Imaging Research. For this scanner, we also use photoacoustic imaging to detect breast tumors. As an improvement, we are building a non-contact system. I am working on a component of this non-contact scanner that captures the 3D shape of the breast using 3D surface imaging technique. The 3D information of the breast is important for reconstructing the photoacoustic images collected by the other component of the scanner.

The support of TBCRU enabled me to purchase a commercial structured light scanner for the development of my system. My next step is to evaluate the performance of my system on a small group of human subjects before integrating my component into the non-contact scanner. For this project, we also collaborate closely with clinicians at the breast cancer center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and researchers at McMaster University.

This May, I have the opportunity to meet with our collaborators and learn more about biomedical optics. I am very grateful to be supported by TBCRU and work for this amazing project.

Personalized radiation from the inside-out

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My name is Justin Michael and I’m an MESc candidate studying in the Department of Biomedical Engineering under Dr. Aaron Fenster in the Robarts Research Institute.

Just weeks after Canada’s 150th birthday, complete with fireworks and concerts, I travelled to our nation’s capital to present at a scientific conference on a distinctly Canadian project. I presented technology to improve the accuracy of a relatively new breast cancer treatment. Pioneered at Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital, the treatment implants radioactive “seeds” in the patient’s breast, delivering personalized radiation from the inside-out in a single visit. It replaces the weeks-long standard approach of delivering radiation from the outside-in, reducing the burden of treatment to the patient. Using ultrasound imaging and simple robotics, we’ve developed tools to help doctors implant the seeds more easily and more accurately.

Justin Michael

From left to right: Justin Michael, TBCRU graduate student; Luc Beaulieu, Professor – Laval University; Aaron Fenster, Imaging Scientist & TBCRU Supervisor – Western University; Deidre Batchelar, Medical Physicist & Adjunct Professor – University of British Columbia Okanogan

Working under Dr. Aaron Fenster in London’s Robarts Research Institute, we’ve collaborated closely with clinicians and researchers at the cancer center in Kelowna, BC. Their center serves patients from throughout the BC interior, some of whom travel up to 350 km for treatment, making shorter radiation especially important. In addition to partnering with researchers in Canada’s West, the research builds on previous technology developed with physicists at Quebec’s Laval University in Canada’s East.

In Ottawa, I showed the tools we’ve built are nearly ready. Our next step is testing on surgical simulators developed at the University of Calgary before moving into clinical trials.

Through research touching four provinces and three time-zones, we’re working to improve options for patients battling breast cancer. Though the Canada Day fireworks have come and gone, researchers in London and across the country still have plenty to celebrate.

Thank you to the BCSC for their support.

Justin Michael, MESc Candidate

Finding cancer: Improving x-ray detector technology for earlier detection of breast cancer

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Hello! I’m Tomi Nano, a PhD candidate in the department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I work at Robarts Research Institute in Dr. Ian Cunningham’s lab on development of new x-ray detector designs and measurements of their performance.

Tomi Nano, a PhD candidate in the department of Medical Biophysics at Western UniversityThe Pamela Greenaway- Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Unit (TBCRU) Traineeship Program has supported my research in improving detector technology performance for earlier detection of breast cancer. Women who enrol in mammography screenings have up to 40% reduced risk of death from breast cancer, but since mammograms require exposure to radiation, detectors should produce high-quality images with the least amount of radiation so as to minimize the risk to patients. The aim of my research project is to develop an “ideal” x-ray detector which produces the highest-quality images with little radiation.

Improvements in image signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) are known to improve breast cancer detection. During my traineeship, our lab has developed a detector design that produces images with higher SNR of small features and fine detail which are important for early detection of breast cancer. Better visualization of fine detail in mammograms should help radiologists more accurately identify cancer. To further understand the clinical process of breast cancer screening, I have begun an observership at St. Joseph’s Hospital with Dr. Anat Kornecki. Our goal is to apply our new technological advancements to address the needs clinicians have for detecting breast cancer earlier.Tomi Nano

The support from TBCRU enabled me to share my discoveries with other scientists and clinicians at the 2017 Mammography Workshop and Imaging Winter School conference organized by the Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists (COMP). In addition to discussing my translational breast cancer research with physicists, radiologists and technologists, this meeting provided an opportunity to establish future collaboration with leading Canadian scientists, such as Martin Yaffe from Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and Jean Seely from the Department of Diagnostic Imaging at Ottawa Hospital.

Thank you TBCRU and BCSC for supporting translational breast cancer research!

Breast cancer cell migration research

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Hello, everyone! My name is Sami Khan and I’m an MSc candidate in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University. I work at London Cancer Regional Program under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan. Our lab focuses on breast cancer metastasis: the process by which cancerous cells can leave the breast and establish tumours in other organs.

Sami Khan BCSC funded Breast Cancer ResearcherOne of the most common and deadly sites of breast cancer metastasis is the lung. For my project, I am currently investigating a family of proteins produced by the normal lung called selectins, and how they may play a role in helping breast cancer cells spread to and grow in the lung as metastatic tumours. To date, we have promising results that suggest selectins are involved in the migration (movement) of breast cancer cells and we are now investigating the mechanism by which this happens. Successful identification of a common mechanism by which the different selectins act will provide a new potential therapeutic target in limiting the spread of breast cancer to and from the lung.

This April, I had the opportunity to present my research at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. With over 20,000 attendees at the conference, it was an amazing opportunity to interact with scientists and clinicians from around the world, and learn about the breadth of research being conducted in the field. Returning to the lab with my newfound knowledge and expert advice, I am excited to see what we can accomplish next in our goal towards curing breast cancer.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

Sami Khan, MSc Candidate

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

Novel Molecular Imaging Technologies

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Hello! My name is Katie Parkins and 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 co-supervision of Drs. Paula Foster and John Ronald.

Katie Parkins, PhD CandidateMy research involves using novel molecular imaging technologies to study concomitant tumour resistance (CTR): the ability of the primary tumour to inhibit the growth of secondary metastases. Tumor cell dormancy and recurrence are important clinical problems for breast cancer patients and their physicians as secondary metastases can develop many years after successful removal of the primary tumour and adjuvant therapy. We expect this research will produce important information about what influences metastatic tumour growth and possibly advance therapeutic development for breast cancer patients.

I have been fortunate to have many opportunities presenting my work at both international and regional conferences. My first author manuscript was published in the Nature Publishing Group journal, Scientific Reports, and recently recognized at the 2017 London Health Research Day as a recipient of the Lucille and Norton Wolf Publication Award. It’s very encouraging to see the interest in my work and the excitement for new results to come!

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

– Katie Parkins, PhD Candidate

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