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Archive for the ‘Researcher’s Blog’ Category

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

Presenting, Learning, and Engaging

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The value in attending a professional cancer research conference

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.

Ashkan Research Blog Since my last blog post, I’ve been fully immersed in the world of research (quite literally). Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the annual American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) conference held in Washington D.C. Being the world’s oldest and largest professional association related to cancer research, I surely had plenty of relevant information that I was able to digest, understand and utilize towards my own research.

As a refresher, my research focuses on assessing human breast cancer spread (metastasis) through a cancer stem cell (CSC) perspective. That being said, I am most interested in the potential of the bone and lung microenvironments to promote stem-like traits in human breast cancer cells. Having been granted the opportunity to present my research at the 2017 AACR conference, I successfully communicated our findings to a distinguished audience, all while receiving valuable information that I am incorporating into my research at this very moment. Further, it was remarkable to witness on an international scale the collaborative efforts that cancer researchers are putting forward to better understand, diagnose, and treat breast-specific and other cancers.

Although a bit overwhelming at times, this conference helped truly put into perspective how important our benchtop research is when it comes to understanding the complicated nature of breast cancer. I am extremely fortunate to have attended such a renowned meeting through the support of BCSC and the Allan lab. Departing for the conference as a rather naïve research student, I returned with a strong sense of enthusiasm about my research and a lengthy list of information/literature to follow-up on.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

– Ashkan Sadri

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

Chemotherapy sounds the alarm

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Pat Murphy ResearcherGreetings! My name is Pat Murphy, a postdoctoral fellow in the Departments of Pathology and Microbiology and Immunology at Dalhousie University in Dr. Shashi Gujar’s laboratory where we study cancer immunology and oncolytic (cancer-killing) viruses. I received funding support from the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and the QEII Foundation through the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute to study the immune response to chemotherapies.

Previous work has shown that some types of chemotherapies and oncolytic viruses enhance the ability of the immune system to detect and kill cancer cells. My work has used mass spectrometry to identify molecules called MHC-I peptides that are elicited by chemotherapies on tumors potentially alerting the immune system to their presence. I am now determining the effect of these MHC-I molecules on anti-tumor immunity to inform the design of new cancer vaccine strategies. These findings are exciting and I am grateful for the support of the Breast Cancer Society of Canada for this work.

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.).