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Creating better drugs to treat breast cancer

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Alexandra Hauser-KawaguchAlexandra Hauser-Kawaguchi, a PhD candidate in Dr. Len Luyt’s lab at the London Health Science Centre’s London Regional Cancer Program, works to help breast cancer patients fight the disease, but does so from her chemistry lab.

“The drug development process that we focus on in our lab is on basic science. We carry out the first steps in the discovery of new anti-cancer drugs. As a chemist, I synthesize novel compounds, and then, I work with biologists, who screen them in cells. If it looks successful, we move onto animal models. But quite often, the outcome leads me to having to redesign and redeveloping the compounds. This is how a successful drug molecule is discovered.”

What Alexandra studies specifically has a long and complicated name – Receptor for hyaluronan mediated motility (RHAMM). “Basically, any receptor is a protein molecule that can react to chemical signals from outside the cell. When such signals arrive, and bind to the receptor, it responds in a certain way. RHAMM reacts specifically to hyaluronan (HA) signals. In breast cancer cells, their interaction increases.”

What follows is a domino effect. “The RHAMM-HA interaction activates downstream signaling pathways. Breast cancer cells, especially those of an aggressive nature, begin to rapidly exchange signals. This process, in turn, activates genes responsible for spreading the cancer to other body parts, which means that it unfortunately becomes metastatic, and this often means that it is ‘incurable’. Yet, the good news is that we can prevent this scenario if we don’t let RHAMM and HA interact.”

For a few years, Alexandra has been focused on discovering new therapeutic agents – drugs – that could block the interaction between RHAMM and HA. “We have developed peptides that act as RHAMM mimics. Proteins and peptides are very similar in structure, but peptides are smaller. RHAMM mimics bind strongly with HA and prevent it from interacting with the real RHAMM. Our studies show that these peptides can block inflammation associated with breast cancer, as well as stop metastasis from occurring.”

Recently, Alexandra’s team has created a set of such peptides and conducted preclinical evaluation in mice. “Preliminary results demonstrated that our lead compound may be successful, and it will be further investigated as a prototype drug molecule for treating RHAMM-related breast cancer.”

“In a perfect world, we hope to one day test our therapeutic agent in patients. Unfortunately, it takes years and requires funding to reach that point. Even preclinical studies are quite expensive. In our lab, we have to be very rigorous with everything leading up to the preclinical stage before we are confident enough to move forward to a clinical trial.”

Alexandra Hauser-KawaguchGoing further in describing the process of drug development, Alexandra suggests that the prospective drug would be injectable, like a vaccine. In addition, the team is thinking of the possibility for the drug to be taken orally: “We are working on designing our compounds in such a way that one day it could end up being a pill. No blood, no needles – it would be much more convenient for patients.”

In Alexandra’s opinion, the most exciting part of research is that it is all about discovering things. However, there is also a negative side. “Quite often experiments fail. You spend so long trying to solve a problem, but it often doesn’t work out like you expected. Such moments can be a bit heartbreaking and discouraging. But when something does work, it is extremely rewarding, and it reminds me why I do this.”

After graduating from University of Toronto, she chose Western University in London for her doctorate because of its reputation in health research, imaging and radiopharmaceuticals. Alexandra was actually first involved in the development of imaging agents. This is directly related to PET (positron emission tomography) or SPECT (single-photon emission computerized tomography) scan technologies. These nuclear imaging tests use very small doses of radioactive compounds that are injected into patients, which helps visualize the cancer tumor on the scan.

“Starting with work in imaging/diagnostics, I ended up working on drug molecules for therapeutic applications in cancer. I do not believe in a magical cure for everything. Each type of cancer is very different, and each patient is very different. But I definitely think it is possible to develop drugs that will treat specific types of breast cancers in the future.”

Support researchers like Alexandra Hauser-Kawaguchi and others by considering a donation to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Find out how you can help fund life-saving research, visit


Alexandra Hauser-Kawaguchi’s story was transcribed from interviews conducted by BCSC volunteer Natalia Mukhina – Health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate

Natalia Mukhina - Health JournalistNatalia Mukhina, MA in Health Studies, is a health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate with a special focus on breast cancer. She is blogging on the up-to-date diagnostic and treatment opportunities, pharmaceutical developments, clinical trials, research methods, and medical advancements in breast cancer. Natalia participated in numerous breast cancer conferences including 18th Patient Advocate Program at 38th San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
She is a member of The Association of Health Care Journalists.

Dr. Alison Allan: “Time is the biggest challenge in breast cancer research”

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Dr. Alison AllanDr. Alison Allan’s research lab is on the 4th floor of the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). The lab is a realm of true science where Dr. Allan investigates the process of metastasis, which occurs when cancer cells spread from the primary tumor to other parts of the body. Breast cancer is a special focus of Dr. Allan’s research program.

But when she goes down two floors, there is a cancer care facility full of patients who are undergoing cancer treatment. These are real patients in real clinical areas, and Dr. Allan finds the setting of her workplace inspiring, where cancer research and clinical care take place together.

“When I came to LHSC to do my post-doc, I began to work with Dr. Ann Chambers, who is an international expert in metastasis and breast cancer specifically. Our Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, which was founded in partnership with the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, provides an environment where researchers can interact with physicians and patients. I have exposure to patients every day. That is what motivated me to stay in breast cancer research and still motivates me every day,” says Dr. Allan.

Although the survival rate of breast cancer is improving, the disease is still the leading cause of cancer death among women worldwide. Dr. Allan explains that metastasis is the most critical part of cancer because most patients do not die of their primary tumor. They usually die of metastatic disease.

“Unfortunately, even if breast cancer has been diagnosed in the early stage and the patient has successfully undergone surgery and other treatments, the cancer cells may escape from the primary tumor and move into the bloodstream. They can circulate throughout the body and invade distant organs like the lungs, the liver, the bones and others. This is what kills 80% of cancer patients.”

The lung is one of the organs to which breast cancer, especially the most aggressive types like triple-negative and HER2-positive, tends to spread. Why does this happen? Based on Dr. Allan’s team findings, some aggressive breast cancer cells express a protein called CD44 on their cell surface. These cells are particularly prone to travel through the bloodstream, reach the lung, interact with lung-specific proteins and grow in the lung, forming new tumors.

CD44+ breast cancer cells and those specific proteins produced by the lung itself work together like hooks that cling to each other. What if you break their interaction? “We suggest that in this case we can reduce metastatic activity. In our lab, we have already identified five specific lung-derived proteins that interact directly with CD44+ breast cancer cells. We have studied the ways to disrupt their interactions and identified a set of targets that likely can block those five specific lung proteins. This approach, I believe, will help us develop new therapies for treating lung metastasis of breast cancer,” says Dr. Allan.

Dr. Allan Lab Team Recently, Dr. Allan and her team have received funding to start the pre-clinical drug development process. “We are working with Dr. Raimar Löbenberg at the Drug Development and Innovation Centre at the University of Alberta. He is a pharmacist with experience in producing inhalable drugs like those used to treat asthma and other respiratory diseases. He will be packaging the targets that we identified into this form, and then we will be testing how the inhaled drug delivery approach works. If it does work, this could lead to an effective and easy-to-use drug for reducing breast cancer metastasis in the future.”

How long will it take to finally obtain a working medication? “If everything goes perfectly, 8-10 years. It’s still long time. We are looking at how to treat the metastasis successfully, but also assessing the preventative capacity of our targets. We have very specific targets and deliver them specifically to the lung. I hope that it will result in more effectiveness and much less toxicity. The lower the toxicity, the more hope to use our future drug to prevent breast cancer metastasis in the lung, not only to treat it.”

Another direction of Dr. Allan’s research is developing blood-based biomarkers that will help in the early detection of metastasis and the assessment of how anti-cancer treatments work in patients with metastatic disease. “It looks like a regular blood test. Just 10 ml of blood. We are looking at viable tumor cells that are floating in the bloodstream. This is a version of the liquid biopsy technology, which has showed impressive results recently. Yet, we can analyze the whole cancer cells while the traditional liquid biopsy is looking for pieces of DNA from tumor cells. We have more prognostic and predictive options because we can recover the cancer cells and study them in the lab to figure whether they are more aggressive or whether they have changed their characteristics. It tells us a bit more about the disease in real time.”

“Time is the biggest challenge in breast cancer research,” argues Dr. Allan. “Every morning, I walk in the LHSC building and see cancer patients. Sometimes I see women my age with kids, and I feel how long things take in science. I feel urgency. I want things to go faster so that our work will be able to benefit more patients.”

Translational research – with its focus on the rapid movement of findings from the lab to patients – is a good option to accelerate progress, Dr. Allan believes. “This approach is widely known as ‘from bench to bedside’, but here in London we also like to think about the ‘bedside to bench’ direction. We talk a lot with clinical colleagues and listen to the problems they see in clinics with their patients. We then take their concerns and ideas back to the lab and see what we can do. It is a circular process rather than a directional one. It is a dialogue.”

Dr. Allan welcomes grad students in her research program. “We are training the next generation of breast cancer researchers in the framework of having the patients in the centre of the research. We may not be able to cure metastatic breast cancer, but we can make it a chronic disease. We can give patients a long, healthy, and productive life. Instead of dying young of breast cancer, patients will live a long and happy life surrounded by their children and grandchildren. Why not? I think this is a very realistic goal.”

Support researchers like Dr. Alison Allan and others by considering a donation to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Find out how you can help fund life-saving research, visit


Dr. Alison Allan’s story was transcribed from interviews conducted by BCSC volunteer
Natalia Mukhina – Health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate

Natalia Mukhina - Health JournalistNatalia Mukhina, MA in Health Studies, is a health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate with a special focus on breast cancer. She is blogging on the up-to-date diagnostic and treatment opportunities, pharmaceutical developments, clinical trials, research methods, and medical advancements in breast cancer. Natalia participated in numerous breast cancer conferences including 18th Patient Advocate Program at 38th San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She is a member of The Association of Health Care Journalists.

Kathy Steffan – What’s My Breast Cancer Story?

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Kathy Steefan - BCSC

Throughout my professional career, I have been involved with many non-profilt organizations, both as a board member and as an auditor/advisor. I feel that this is my most significant board involvement because of my personal connection with breast cancer. It involves my own baby girl, Nicole. Actually, she hasn’t been a baby for a long time, except to me.

Nicole’s story starts in 2006, at age 22, when she found a painful lump on her breast. Because she was young, healthy and active, she thought it meant nothing. Over the next 2 years the pain slowly got worse, and several doctors dismissed the lump as a benign cyst, because, of course, she was too young to have cancer. Finally, she had an ultrasound in Toronto and was eventually diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. Nicole started treatment at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto with a plan that included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Within 7 months of the initial diagnosis Nicole received a clean bill of health. Her annual check-ups were good news for the following seven years.

In early 2015,  Nicole was 31 years old and living in Calgary,  pursuing a successful career in Commercial Real Estate. That Spring, she started to feel pain and discomfort in one of her ribs after any physical activity. All of her doctors, including her original oncologist in Toronto, said it was a broken rib that would need time to heal. When the pain persisted into the Fall, a doctor in Calgary ordered a CT scan. This time, Nicole had stage IV metastatic breast cancer, and it was in her lungs and her bones–which had led to her broken rib.

Nicole on her 33rd Birthday in July 2017 with her fabulous puppy Bobby.

Nicole on her 33rd Birthday in July 2017.

We had expected that she would have to endure chemo, radiation and much more. However, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that because Nicole’s breast cancer is 99% estrogen, the treatment would be three weeks of radiation, followed by ongoing hormone treatment and ovarian suppression. Three months later, all of the tumours were reduced significantly and we continued to hope.

It is now September 2017 and we all feel very fortunate that the treatment is still working. In Nicole’s case, metastatic breast cancer has become a chronic disease that can be treated, which is a huge contrast to what it was in the past. And if the current treatment becomes less effective, there are lots of options.

Notably, the treatment that Nicole is now receiving did not exist in 2009. Her outcomes would have been very different. The advancements in treatment in even the last five to 10 years have been incredible. This is the core of the reason that I am involved in the Breast Cancer Society of Canada (BCSC). Because I am convinced that the research focus and mandate of the (BCSC) will make a difference. I feel confident that my involvement will actually make a difference.

I am encouraged and excited about the hope that exists, and look forward to the future when we finally put a stop to this disease.

Like Kathy Steffan start making a difference today give to life-saving breast research. Learn more about ways you can give at


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


“Research is a shared responsibility of participants and investigators”

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Becky S., 37, calls herself “a girl on a winning streak.” That might sound a bit strange after you learn that she is a breast cancer survivor who has had an extensive history of surgery and chemotherapy. Yet, Becky truly believes that her hormone-sensitive stage II breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 2016, has been a stroke of luck, unlike other forms of the disease. “With my particular type of cancer, I seem to be eligible to participate in a clinical trial to become pregnant. I must take tamoxifen for five years. Hopefully the trial will give me a chance to have a baby safer.”

It has long been thought that pregnancy increases the probability of breast cancer relapse and the appearance of distant metastases, especially for women with estrogen-positive (ER+) disease. Estrogen plays a significant role during pregnancy, but it also provokes ER+ cancer cells growth and can awaken cancer cells that remain in the body even after the heavy treatment.

Clinical Trials Word CloudYet, findings from a multicenter retrospective study show that for women with a history of ER+ breast cancer, pregnancy can be safe. The findings of the study were presented at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting by lead study author Dr. Matteo Lambertini (the Jules Bordet Institute in Brussels, Belgium).

Just a year ago, Becky had never heard words like “retrospective study” or “clinical trials”.  Her immersion in the field of breast cancer research unfolded gradually after a casual chat with her co-worker Lizzy at a party last year. Lizzy’s grandmother died of breast cancer many years ago, when tamoxifen was not available. The only option for endocrine therapy for women with ER+ breast cancer was oophorectomy, i.e. ovary removal. This procedure left women unable to have any biological children.

“Lizzy told me – Hey, you keep your ovaries inside, so technically you can have a baby! Science is constantly evolving. Just ask your doctor about the options for you,” recalls Becky. “Lizzy’s words firmly caught my mind. But my husband said pregnancy may be dangerous. He said, ‘I don’t need a child in exchange for your life.’”

Undeterred, Becky began searching for information on pregnancy after breast cancer treatment. She faced a lot of controversial opinions and specific medical terms. “I’ve read through so many specialised websites that I consider myself a kind of a self-taught researcher,” says Becky with a smile. Now, she confidently differentiates randomised controlled studies from, say, meta-analyses and reads a PubMed without having to double-check what a P-value is.

“It is not that overwhelming. Rather, the opposite, in fact. I would recommend all cancer survivors to be aware of what is going on in the field. Since I started learning more about cancer research, I feel calmer and a bit more protected. I see how hard researchers work on a cancer cure and how much has already been done to fight breast cancer. It’s highly supportive.”

Recently, Becky heard about The POSITIVE study that will research breast cancer and pregnancy. This study will evaluate the pregnancy outcomes and safety of interrupting endocrine therapy for young women with endocrine responsive breast cancer who wish to become pregnant. In other words, the goal of this study is to assess whether it is safe for breast cancer survivors to temporarily stop taking their hormone blockers such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors, which are normally recommended for 5-10 years after initial treatment and may be dangerous for a fetus. The study also aims to evaluate different specific indicators related to fertility, pregnancy and breast cancer biology in young women.

Becky S Quote

“This study is exactly what I need,” says Becky. “I believe it is my chance to both become a mother and show other women that hormone-positive breast cancer is no longer a sentence to childlessness.”

Participants will put endocrine therapy on hold for up to two years to enable pregnancy, delivery and breast-feeding. Then, therapy will be resumed. Participants will also be followed for 10 years after enrollment in the study. More information about the POSITIVE study can be found on (Registration # NCT02308085).

The good news is that The POSITIVE is currently active in Canada. I met with Becky at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, one of the participating institutions, where she came to learn more about the study. As a curious patient, she has already familiarized herself with all the details available on the Internet and compiled a list of questions to ask a clinical trials professional.

“Clinical trials and research are a shared responsibility of participants and investigators,” says Becky. “Some folks who are aware of my plan told me that I will be a kind of guinea pig, but they are completely wrong. I will become a teammate with a very special role, and hopefully I will become a mother some day despite the breast cancer in my past.

Natalia Mukhina –
Health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate

Natalia Mukhina - Health Journalist

Natalia Mukhina, MA in Health Studies, is a health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate with a special focus on breast cancer. She is blogging on the up-to-date diagnostic and treatment opportunities, pharmaceutical developments, clinical trials, research methods, and medical advancements in breast cancer. Natalia participated in numerous breast cancer conferences including 18th Patient Advocate Program at 38th San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She is a member of The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).

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

Miss Teenage Toronto supports BCSC

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Miss Teenage Toronto 2017 (Alexia Antonio) has been very active this July, volunteering and running fundraising events across Toronto in support of a number of different charities, including ours! Alexia will be hosting a number of tables in the Bay Adelaide Centre concourse, on July 25, 26 and 27, between 9am and 5pm. She will be located across the Second Cup in the PATH concourse for the centre.

Alexia Antonio BCSC FundraiserAlexia has prepared dozens of gift baskets to help support her fundraising efforts. With every donation of $5, $10 and $20, donors are eligible for different types of gift bags with various beauty products enclosed – 100% of all proceeds will go the Breast Cancer Society Of Canada, funding life-saving breast cancer research.

We are looking forward to hearing more about Alexia BCSC fundraising event from her directly, when we interview her about her experience fundraising for us and fund out why she has chosen the Breast Cancer Society of Canada as one of her charities of choice.

More about Miss Teenage Toronto 2017,
Alexia is a kind and an open-minded young woman who is determined to achieve her life goals while making positive contributions in the world. Alexia currently hold the title of Miss Teenage Toronto and strongly supports women’s needs and the empowerment and equality for all women. Alexia aims to spread the message of courage, strength and confidence through her Beauty Inside campaign. Alexia is currently attending York University and her hobbies include swimming, reading and performing in Shakespearean plays. Alexia has a passion for fencing and is currently on the York University fencing team and dreams of competing in the Olympics.

Follow Alexia during her fundraising event for BCSC on
Facebook,  Instagram and her blog for all the up to the moment fun details over the next three days as she supports funding life-saving breast cancer research.  Because #ResearchMatters

Finding a Novel Strategy to Prevent Metastasis

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“What my patients with early stage breast cancer really fear is to hear the word ‘metastasis’.” Most oncologists would agree with this statement, which I once heard from a presenter at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.  There is no doubt that being told you have metastatic breast cancer is a lot to take in, as it means that breast cancer has spread beyond the breast to other parts in the body. The disease becomes more advanced the farther it spreads. And, unfortunately, it also becomes incurable.

How can the appearance of metastases be prevented? One of the ways to address this issue – and probably the most promising – originates from the field of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Dr. Jean-François Côté, Director of the Cancer and Genetic Diseases Division in MontrealDr. Jean-François Côté Clinical Research Institute (IRCM), explores the molecular signals that allow cancer cells to seed and grow new tumors, and how to stop this spread. Along with his research team, he looks at signalling pathways that control cell migration. One of the team’s current projects focuses on breast cancer. Recently, Dr. Côté visited the Cancer Research Institute at Queen’s University and shared details of this research during a seminar titled “Unravelling the complexity of metastasis: Characterizing the roles of the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL in metastatic progression.”

What is the research agenda of Dr. Côté’s team? Statistics indicate that the majority of breast cancer deaths occur because of the manifestation of metastases. The metastatic process is complex: cancer cells detach from a primary tumour, enter nearby blood vessels, and migrate in the vascular system. Throughout this process, cancer cells exchange signals, and such signaling pathways drive tumor progression and metastasis after cancer cells reach and survive at secondary sites.

In a nutshell, AXL is a cell surface receptor. As Dr. Côté explains, the expression of AXL correlates with the appearance of metastases in several types of cancers, including breast cancer. AXL stimulates cell proliferation promoting cell survival, resistance, invasion, and metastasis. In other words, signals from AXL help malignant cells grow and spread to distant areas in the body.

A snapshot of AXL cooperating with HER2 in human breast cancer samples

A snapshot of AXL cooperating with HER2 in human breast cancer samples

The mechanism AXL uses to perform its pro-metastatic role is still not completely clear. To identify signaling networks controlled by AXL, Dr. Côté borrowed proteomics approaches – protein-based analysis methods that help estimate the relative and absolute amounts of thousands of proteins across diverse biological systems. Proteomic technologies are in high demand in cancer studies as they have the potential to lead to the discovery of new therapeutic targets and improve the precision of anti-cancer treatments.

What unites researchers in the cancer field all over the world is the understanding that a “one-size-fits-all” strategy for treating cancer no longer works. We live in the era of a tailor-made individualised approach. Searching for ways to personalize breast cancer treatment is considered the most promising way forward for leading cancer researchers. As researchers such as Dr. Côté and his team learn more about the molecular mechanisms controlling signaling by the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL, they are better able to move forward and identify some pharmacologic targets for treating breast cancer. The next major step will be designing novel anti-cancer therapies that will work better than conventional untargeted chemotherapy. “Old-school” chemotherapy kills without distinction. Targeted drugs attack breast cancer without harming benign cells.

Dr. Côté also employs in vivo approaches. In vivo (Latin for “within the living”) means that an investigator uses a whole, living organism in research. Regarding cancer studies, in vivo testing involves mouse models and human patient-derived xenografts. In the case of xenografts, human tumor cells are transplanted into a mouse. This allows the design of a model with the same biological parameters as an actual cancer patient. Obviously, this is a perfect way to observe the overall effect of an experiment using a living subject, while not harming people.

Much has been achieved in research and much more remains to be done, as Dr. Côté says. To date, findings indicate that the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL is a promising therapeutic target for breast cancer therapy. “Our results suggest that inhibition of AXL would be beneficial in limiting the spread of breast cancer,” argues Dr. Côté.

Natalia Mukhina –
Health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate


Natalia Mukhina - Health Journalist

Natalia Mukhina, MA in Health Studies, is a health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate with a special focus on breast cancer. She is blogging on the up-to-date diagnostic and treatment opportunities, pharmaceutical developments, clinical trials, research methods, and medical advancements in breast cancer. Natalia participated in numerous breast cancer conferences including 18th Patient Advocate Program at 38th San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She is a member of The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).


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.

Shelley Warner: My cancer story, is not a death sentence

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We would like you to meet Shelley Warner. Over the next month’s Shelley will be sharing a window in to her cancer story with us. As an introduction to her story, Shelley brings us up to her present days with a little bit of the beginnings to her cancer story.

Shelley Warner, my cancer story:
Breast cancer does not have to be a death sentence

In June of 2015 at the age of 46 I faced every woman’s worst fear and found a lump in my breast. At that point I had lived in the Mississauga area for 8 years and had always struggled to find a family doctor. I got up the next morning and called 9 doctors who all refused to see me. I explained my situation and still they refused. Call number 10 resulted in success. A doctor examined me and sent me for an ultra sound and mammogram. A week later the clinic called and requested I come back for a biopsy. The biopsy indeed confirmed I had breast cancer. The day following my diagnosis I met with my surgeon and was scheduled for surgery 10 days later where I had a lumpectomy and lymph nodes removed. The week following surgery I was sent for a CT and bone scan which is standard for all breast cancer patients. The following week I met with my oncologist for what I thought would be a routine appointment to obtain my schedule for chemotherapy. By this time my doctor had my scan results and he revealed to me that my cancer was Triple Negative metastatic breast cancer, very aggressive, and had already spread to my liver, lung and spine.

Shelley Warner, My cancer story

My oncologist proceeded to tell me that there is no cure for metastatic breast cancer. I remained very calm surprisingly and I looked up at my oncologist and said ok what are we going to do next? How are you going to treat me because I refuse to lie down and die! He told me we can do chemo but it will only shrink the cancer not cure me. I said surely shrinkage is better than letting it grow. Let’s start the chemo tomorrow I said! I looked my doctor straight in the face and I told him to please start telling me what he can do as opposed to what he cannot. With that he referred to his colleagues in the field and came back to me with a plan. I had 6 rounds of chemo every 3 weeks between September 2015 and January 2016. At the end of January, I had a CT scan and all the cancer was clear from my liver, lung and spine. My doctor said I was a miracle to be in remission. I continued to have scans every 3 months and each one clear until August 2016. I then began to suffer from a great deal of back pain in which a bone scan revealed the cancer was back in my bone. My lung and liver are still clear. I had just got to the point where I had a full head of hair again and back I went for 3 more rounds of chemo! I am now on an oral form of chemo called Xeloda. I’m only on my second cycle but so far so good.

Research is very important to me. Yes, without it I would not have the medication I am taking today to allow me a wonderful quality of life. However, my need for research goes beyond that. Metastatic breast cancer currently has no cure. Although I’m doing well on my current medication that could change at any time as cancer can become immune to the chemo. I am a huge advocate for research so that a cure can ultimately be found for this horrible disease. The current medication can buy me several years hopefully but a cure can save me all together.

My message is that metastatic breast cancer does not have to be a death sentence. This is a chronic disease and should be treated as such.  I am extremely active and live a full happy life! I work running my own successful recruitment firm. I travel and have been to Europe twice since my diagnosis and through my treatment. I live every day with the same zest and love of life as I always have.

Shelley Warner.

If you enjoyed this chapter in Shelley’s cancer story you can meet her in person.
Shelley will be one of the speakers at our Mississauga walk location on May 14. 2017.
Visit for more information, to register to walk or sponsor someone today.

Shelly recently sat down to speak with Pauline Chan from CTV News to tell her story and why research matters to her. Watch the full story below or on the CTV website

Shelley Warner CTV News