Understanding how the spread of breast cancer is influenced by non-cancer cells in the body

Project details

Researcher: Dr Cristina Branco

Location: University of Cambridge

Project title: Understanding how the spread of breast cancer is influenced by non-cancer cells in the body

Key area: Secondary breast cancer

The challenge

When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it can sometimes be treated and controlled but cannot be cured. Whist we know a lot about how breast cancer cells migrate, we also know that other non-cancer cells in the body can sometimes help or prevent breast cancer spread, and so we need to further investigate how this happens.

Project description

In her fellowship project, Dr Branco will study two types of cells that can influence how breast cancer spreads. When breast cancer cells migrate to other parts of the body through the blood, they must first invade into the blood vessels, which are lined with a barrier of cells called endothelial cells. Part of Dr Branco’s project will study these endothelial cells to find out what controls whether breast cancer cells are able to squeeze between them or not.

Dr Branco will also study cells of the immune system. She aims to understand how they can sometimes allow breast cancer cells to migrate instead of attacking them, and how immune cells create a safe haven in other parts of the body for breast cancer cells to grow into secondary breast tumours. She will study endothelial cells, immune cells, and breast cancer cells, both in the lab and in mice, to understand how they interact with each other.

What difference will this project make?

Dr Branco’s research will lead to a greater understanding of how the spread of breast cancer is helped by non-cancer cells in the body. This could eventually lead to new treatments which could slow or even prevent the spread of breast cancer throughout the body, and so improving the chances of survival for people living with the disease.

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