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News16 May 2022

New funding boosts Garvan breast cancer research

NBCF backs Garvan researchers with $2.99 million in grants to improve treatments and uncover new therapies.

Six researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have been awarded grants from the Investigator Initiated Research Scheme by the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).

The grants, totalling $2.99 million, will provide Garvan researchers the opportunity to build on their world-leading work to develop new ways to test for and treat breast cancer over the next three years.

Each of the six projects will contribute to a better understanding of the way breast cancers develop, how they respond to new and existing treatments, and how they spread around the body, with the ultimate aim of improving treatment outcomes and changing patients’ lives.

Associate Professor Liz Caldon

Group Leader – Replication and Genome Stability Group

Associate Professor Caldon and her team have identified a unique ‘escape mechanism’ that some estrogen receptor positive (ER+) breast cancer use to evade treatment. ER+ tumours make up 75% of all breast cancer diagnoses and in many cases are capable of developing resistance to current therapies. Associate Professor Caldon’s team are investigating how existing medications used as leukemia treatments can be repurposed to target ER+ resistance and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy for metastatic cancer.

Dr Tatyana Chtanova

Lab Head – Innate and Tumour Immunology Lab

Harnessing the immune system as a new treatment for solid cancers such as metastatic melanoma and lung cancer has led to huge improvements in patient outcomes but has unfortunately shown little success in other forms of cancer, including breast cancer. Dr Chtanova and her lab have developed a new approach using bacteria to direct immune cells to fight cancer, which has successfully stopped tumour growth and increased survival in preclinical models of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). This project will explore how this approach works in greater detail, with the hope of harnessing immunotherapy as a much-needed new treatment for TNBC.

Dr Sharissa Latham

Senior Research Officer – Network Biology Lab

Triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) is an aggressive form of breast cancer with limited treatment options. Dr Latham and her colleagues are developing new therapy to target TNBC cells that have spread around the body by blocking a cellular signalling pathway absent from healthy cells called oncogenic JNK. The team has identified the first known treatment able to block this signalling pathway known as K12. The team has expanded on this discovery by developing new therapeutic candidates similar to K12. This project will now undertake further lab tests to investigate these drugs and improve their effectiveness as a potential targeted treatment for TNBC.

Dr Dan Roden

Senior Research Officer – Swarbrick Lab

Breast cancers are made up of many different cell types whose presence and interactions are known to play important roles in how tumours respond to treatment. Dr Roden and his team have recently developed new ways to identify these cell types so their interactions can be better understood, but more work is needed to determine where these different cell types are located and how they interact within the tumour. This project will use state-of-the-art imaging techniques to identify which combinations of cell types are associated with poorer outcomes and could benefit from new therapeutic approaches.

Associate Professor Clare Stirzaker

Group Leader – Epigenetic Deregulation in Cancer Group

There is currently a lack of sensitive and reliable tests to monitor people living with breast cancer so that cancer relapse can be detected in its early stage before symptoms appear. Associate Professor Stirzaker is working with her team to develop a non-invasive epigenetic test to monitor breast cancer DNA in blood. A simple blood test would be of significant benefit, allowing regular non-invasive testing for breast cancer recurrence, bringing peace-of-mind to patients, and ultimately leading to improved outcomes through earlier detection and treatment.

Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick

Lab Head - Swarbrick Lab

Research into the immune cells that can be found in many breast cancers has largely focused on ‘killer’ T cells. However, immunotherapies targeting T cells haven’t shown the same promising results in breast cancer as they have in other cancers such as melanoma. Associate Professor Swarbrick and his team will focus on another kind of immune cell present in breast cancer, known as B cells, to identify which B cells are present in breast cancer. The project will explore whether these immune cells produce antibodies, how they regulate and contribute to metastatic breast cancer, and what strategies could be effective in activating B cells’ anti-cancer activity, to open up potential new avenues for treatment.