Project details

Researchers: Professor Richard Grose and Dr Ed Carter

Location: Queen Mary, University of London

Project title: Finding new ways to predict which cases of DCIS will progress to invasive breast cancer

Key area: Early Detection and Diagnosis

The challenge

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a non-invasive form of breast cancer. It is estimated that up to 50% of DCIS cases would develop into invasive breast cancer if left untreated. However, it is currently difficult to predict which DCIS cases will progress to invasive breast cancer. To direct treatment to women who need it most and protect women from overtreatment if they don’t need it, we need ways to predict which cases of DCIS will become invasive breast cancer.

The science behind the project

Breast ducts are formed of two types of cells: luminal and myoepithelial. These two types of cells communicate closely to maintain the stability of the duct. In DCIS, myoepithelial cells confine cancerous luminal cells to the duct and don’t allow them to spread. But in invasive breast cancer the myoepithelial cell barrier is disrupted. 

Professor Grose and Dr Carter would like to understand how the communication between these two cell types changes when DCIS progresses to invasive breast cancer. This knowledge could help researchers find markers to differentiate between the cases of DCIS that will become invasive and those that will remain harmless.

Professor Grose and colleagues have developed a novel 3D model of the breast duct using myoepithelial and luminal cells isolated from patient samples from the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank. By modifying these cells the researchers are able to recreate distinct steps of breast cancer progression. In this project, they will label the signalling molecules released by each cell type in the breast duct model and track how these molecules change during the progression of DCIS to invasive breast cancer. Dr Carter will then investigate the molecules with the most notable change in tissue samples of DCIS patients to see if these molecules could be used to predict the outcome of DCIS.

What difference will this project make?

The vast majority of women diagnosed with DCIS are currently receiving treatment despite the fact that, for half of them, their DCIS may never progress to invasive breast cancer. We hope that this project will identify the changes that happen when DCIS progresses to invasive breast cancer and will find molecules that could be to be used in the clinic to predict which DCIS patients need treatment.

We are very grateful to the Haley Family Charitable Trust for their generous support of Professor Richard Grose’s work.

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