Breast cancer funding for Garvan researchers

Garvan researchers secured six Project Grants awarded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Dr Liz Caldon, Dr Tatyana Chtanova, Dr Christine Chaffer, Professor Sandra O’Toole, Dr Neil Portman & Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick

21 May 2019

Researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have been awarded six NBCF Research Project Grants, for up to three years of funding.

The grants provide the opportunity for Garvan researchers to continue their groundbreaking work to find new breast cancer treatments.

The projects aim to help further understand risk factors, develop new ways to treat and monitor breast cancer, improve quality of life for breast cancer patients, improve treatment outcomes and ultimately – save lives.

Grant recipients and their projects

Dr Liz Caldon (Group Leader - Replication and Genome Stability): Advanced estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer is responsible for over half of breast cancer deaths. Dr Liz Caldon and her team have developed experimental models of a new form of drug resistance in estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer. The team will study how these cells become resistant and determine whether existing drug treatments could be used to treat the CDK4/6 inhibitor resistant cancer, or whether better alternatives can be identified. These findings may lead to improved treatment options for patients with drug-resistant ER+ breast cancer.

Dr Tatyana Chtanova (Laboratory Head - Innate and Tumour Immunology): The most common forms of breast cancer therapy are ineffective against triple-negative breast cancer, which occurs in 10% and 20% of cases. Immunotherapy, where the body’s own immune system is recruited to target the cancer, is showing enormous promise for some cancers, but is only effective in a small subset of breast cancer patients. Dr Tatyana Chtanova and her colleagues have developed a new immunotherapy method that targets the more general, “innate” immune system. Dr Chtanova will apply her new approach to the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer in experimental models, aiming to develop new treatment options for patients.

Dr Christine Chaffer (Laboratory Head - Cancer Cell Plasticity): Dr Christine Chaffer is developing new techniques to stop metastatic breast cancer cells from spreading. Her team has discovered a novel marker that is essential for the cells’ activity and by blocking it, Dr Chaffer has been able to stop the growth and spread of tumours in experimental models. In this project, her team will investigate the most effective method of blocking the biomarker to provide a new therapeutic strategy to prevent metastasis, slow progression and improve outcomes for those affected by breast cancer.

Professor Sandra O’Toole (Senior Pathology Fellow - Translational Breast Cancer Research): Professor Sandra O’Toole will investigate a rare cancer type called Phyllodes sarcoma. Her group have collected a unique collection of rare tumour samples and developed valuable experimental models, and will use a combination of genomic technology and cellular imaging to identify targets that can be explored further for drug development. The findings will allow Prof O’Toole and her team to identify and complete initial efficacy testing of new potential treatments for these rare cancers.

Dr Neil Portman (Senior Research Officer - Connie Johnson Breast Cancer Research): Dr Neil Portman will investigate alternative treatment options for CDK4/6 inhibitor resistant (CDKR) breast cancer. He believes that a factor known as p53, also known as the “Guardian of the Genome”, could be essential in the fight against drug resistance. A class of drugs called MDM2 inhibitors can increase the activity of p53. Dr Portman’s team will test a series of MDM2 drugs, to identify which single or combination therapy is most effective at reducing tumour growth and provide better treatment options for CDKR breast cancer in the future.

Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick (Laboratory Head - The Tumour Progression Laboratory): Breast cancers are a complex ‘ecosystem’ of many cell types. These cell interactions play a central role in defining the behaviour of the disease and its response to therapy. Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick will use Single Cell Genomics to develop a world-first “breast cancer cell atlas” that will identify the cell types present in a large cohort of different breast cancer types and also identify the relative levels of drug targets on the cell types. The generated data will help to support many new research projects in the fields of targeted therapies, immunotherapy and biomarkers.