Researcher: Professor Clare Isacke
Location: The Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, London
Project title: Molecular Cell Biology team
Key area: Secondary breast cancer
Secondary breast cancer – when the cancer spreads and tumours develop elsewhere in the body – cuts short the lives of around 1,000 women and men each month in the UK. There is still so much we need to know about how breast cancer cells escape from the breast tumour, enter the blood stream and manage to seed new tumours in places such as the bone, lungs and brain. Understanding the intricate cellular processes that contribute to these events will lead the way to preventing and controlling secondary breast cancer.
Professor Clare Isacke and the Molecular Cell Biology team are studying the cellular mechanisms that control the growth of tumour cells, their invasion into surrounding tissue and their spread to other parts of the body. Their aim is to understand these processes in fine detail to identify targets for the prevention and treatment of secondary breast cancer. Specifically, they are looking at how tumour cells interact with other healthy cells within and around the tumour to promote the spread of the disease.
How will the team achieve this?
A special type of cell called a cancer associated fibroblast or CAF is thought to play an important role in the growth and spread of breast cancer. The team is investigating how the normal breast tissue and the tumour itself work together to attract CAFs. They hope this will help identify targets that could be used to develop treatments to prevent secondary breast cancer.
Research into secondary breast cancer has been hampered by a lack of suitable methods to study exactly how cancer cells spread around a living organism. The team is developing laboratory mice to be able to more accurately study how breast cancer spreads. In particular they are using these mice to study the spread of breast cancer to the brain.
Breast cancers that have spread to other organs are often resistant to the treatments that worked on the original breast tumour. The team is studying the complex biological environment in and around tumours that have spread to identify ways to overcome or prevent resistance.
What difference will this project make?
Secondary breast cancer is not yet curable and so is an area in vital need of research. Prof Isacke and her team’s research will lead to a greater understanding of the complex molecular basis of the disease, which ultimately will pave the way for the development of effective new treatments to prevent as many patients developing secondary breast cancer as possible, and control it more effectively in patients whose breast cancer does spread.
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