Date

The Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Research saves lives!
Breast Cancer Ribbon

Archive for the ‘Researcher’s Blog’ Category

Could blocking certain proteins prevent lung metastasis of breast cancer?

posted by:

Hello everyone! My name is Sami Khankhan
and I’m an MSc candidate in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University. I work under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan at London Regional Cancer Program.

The main focus of our lab is breast cancer metastasis, the process by which cancerous cells can leave the breast and establish tumours in other organs. Metastasis accounts for over 90 per cent of all breast cancer-related deaths by directly impairing function of organs such as the lungs. Over a century ago, Dr. Stephen Paget postulated that like a plant seed which requires rich, nutritious soil to grow, breast cancer cells need specific factors present within an organ to be able to survive and develop into a tumour.

My work over the past year has involved researching E- and P-selectin, two proteins present in the lung that appear to be involved in attracting breast cancer cells to this organ. With the promising results we have seen so far, we intend to perform further experiments to evaluate whether blocking these proteins could prevent lung metastasis of breast cancer. Successfully limiting lung metastasis could not only reduce the number of deaths caused by breast cancer, but also allow more patients to live long, fulfilling lives.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

-Sami Khan, MSc Candidate

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

Does stress affect breast cancer tumour growth?

posted by:
Jenna Kara

Jenna Kara in the Dept. of Medical Biophysics at Western University

Hello! My name is Jenna Kara and I’m an MSc student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University, working in the labs of Paula Foster, PhD and Dwayne Jackson, PhD.

Studies have found relationships between elevated stress and poor survival in cancer patients. I study how stress affects breast cancer tumour growth and progression.

During stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system releases a substance called neuropeptide Y (NPY). NPY binds to receptors in the body, and we’ve shown that NPY can make breast cancer cells grow faster and make blood vessels form (which is important for tumour growth).

Interestingly, women with family histories of breast cancer tend to have greater sympathetic neurotransmitter release under normal living conditions.

My work tests three breast cancer cell types of varying aggressiveness for expression of NPY receptors, and measures their growth in response to NPY treatment.

In addition, I’m using MRI cell tracking to monitor tumour growth progression and metastasis. In this study we look to see if blocking the target receptors of NPY blunts tumour growth and spread.

This research could uncover NPY receptors as potential drug targets, providing patients with a better risk assessment of cancer recurrence.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
– Jenna Kara, MSc student
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre

Cancer stem cells: a unique approach to assessing breast cancer metastasis

posted by:
Ashkan Sadri

Sadri in the Dept. of Anatomy and Cell Biology

Hello! My name is Ashkan Sadri and I’m a Masters candidate in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University. As a recent addition to Dr. Alison Allan’s lab at London Regional Cancer Program, today marks the first time you’ll be hearing from me!

What most intrigued me about the work conducted in Dr. Allan’s lab was the translational relevance of ongoing projects, but further, their unique approach to assessing human breast cancer spread (metastasis) through a cancer stem cell (CSC) perspective.

Stem cells are best known for their regenerative potential, which coincides with characteristics found in stem-like tumour cells.

Our previous studies have shown that certain breast cancer CSCs preferentially migrate and/or metastasize to the lungs and bones, where secondary tumours can severely impede organ function; the specific role of these organs in promoting metastasis, however, remains poorly understood. This is where I get involved.

Currently, I’m investigating the potential of the bone and lung microenvironments to promote stem-like traits in human breast cancer cells. Understanding how these microenvironments affect tumour cells could hold the key to intervening with breast cancer metastasis and tumour development altogether.

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

Implementing a robotic arm to image breast tumours

posted by:
Lawrence Yip

Lawrence Yip implementing a robotic arm

Hello! My name is Lawrence Yip and I’m a Master’s student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I work at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dr. Jeffrey Carson’s Optics Lab.

You might have seen Ivan Kosik’s blog posts describing his work in improving the success rate of breast-conserving surgery. I’m working on the next generation of Ivan’s imaging system. Specifically, I’m designing, building and implementing a new imaging system that uses a novel robotic arm and custom sensors to more accurately image breast tumours.

As a first-year Master’s student, the past year has been a great journey and learning experience. Whether it’s figuring out how to use a 3D printer or getting lost in the hospital, every day there is something new to discover. I’m very excited to build a system that has so much potential to help breast cancer patients!

This past month, at London Health Research Day, I was able to attend my first conference and present a poster on my work! It was an exciting day.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!
Lawrence Yip, MSc Candidate
Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre

Using MRI to detect TAM cells

posted by:
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

Examining how breast cancer tumour ‘seeds’ travel to other organs

posted by:
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

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

posted by:

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

How do breast cancer cells move through the body?

posted by:
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.

Attempting to inhibit breast cancer proliferation

posted by:
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

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

posted by:

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