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Posts Tagged ‘western university’

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

 

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

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

Imaging biomarkers in treatment of breast cancer with high-dose radiation therapy

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My name is Matthew Mouawad. I am a third-year PhD student in the department of Medical Biophysics at Western University working under the supervision of Drs. Stewart Gaede and Neil Gelman.

Matthew Mouawad, CAMPEP PhD candidate Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre

With the high prevalence of breast cancers (1 in 9 women) in North America, we need to find ways to minimize the emotional and physical burden on patients and explore more efficient treatment techniques. Currently, breast-conserving therapies will often include five weeks of post-surgery radiotherapy, which can be prohibitively long for many patients. Furthermore, we currently do not have methods to non-invasively evaluate tumour control at an early stage.

To address these two limitations, London Regional Cancer Program is conducting a clinical trial headed by Drs. Muriel Brackstone, Michael Lock, and Brian Yaremko that is looking to reduce treatment time from five weeks to a single session, using high-dose radiotherapy. My role in this project is to use imaging we acquire from the hybrid PET-MRI at St. Joseph’s hospital to assess tumour control within seven days of treatment! The treatment technique would minimize patient burden significantly and the imaging would allow us to explore alternative ways to treat patients and potentially allow for adaptive patient treatment techniques.

We have successfully treated 14 patients using the new high-dose radiotherapy technique and have developed an imaging protocol that will allow us to investigate various tumour biomarkers. I look forward to presenting the most recent results in an manuscript within the next few months.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

– Matthew Mouawad, CAMPEP PhD candidate

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

 

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

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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

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

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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

Attempting to inhibit breast cancer proliferation

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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