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10 May 2021

New funding to progress breast cancer research

The National Breast Cancer Foundation has awarded five research grants to Garvan researchers.

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

Grants totalling $1.86 million will provide Garvan researchers the opportunity to continue their ground-breaking work to find new breast cancer treatments over the next three years.

Each project aims to help further understand risk factors, develop new ways to treat and monitor breast cancer, improve treatment outcomes and ultimately save lives.

Dr Liz Caldon

Group Leader – Replication and Genome Stability

Dr Caldon will examine a potential targeted therapy for breast cancers that recur more than five years after their initial diagnosis. Dr Caldon and her team have initial data that suggests these tumours could be treated with an existing therapy known as Rac inhibitors, and predict they can use a marker protein to identify which patients will benefit most. The project will use imaging technology to determine if the treatment can effectively stop the growth and spread of cancer, to ultimately develop improved therapy to prevent and treat late breast cancer recurrence.

Dr Joanna Achinger-Kawecka

Senior Research Officer – Epigenetics Research Lab

Dr Achinger-Kawecka will study for the first time how epigenetic therapy changes the 3D DNA organisation of ER+ tumours that are resistant to endocrine therapy. Dr Achinger-Kawecka with Professor Susan Clark and her team have recently shown that changes to the 3D organisation of DNA are linked to a tumour’s sensitivity to endocrine therapies. And, unlike genetic alterations, epigenetic changes can be targeted using therapeutic drugs as a possible new treatment option. The ultimate aim of the research is to help develop new personalised treatment options for ER+ breast cancer and open potential avenues for the use of epigenetic therapies to increase survival and improve outcomes for patients with endocrine resistant breast cancer.

Associate Professor Thomas Cox

Lab Head – Matrix and Metastasis

Associate Professor Cox’s project will investigate a potential new treatment that targets an enzyme called peroxidasin for the treatment of breast cancer. Working with University of Adelaide collaborators, his team recently found that peroxidasin contributes to scar-like tissue in breast cells. Scar-like tissue in the extracellular matrix – the mesh or glue that holds cells together – is associated with more aggressive breast cancers and higher resistance to chemotherapy. Using advanced imaging techniques, 3D models and experimental cancer models, Associate Professor Cox will gather data on the new treatment’s ability to reduce the formation of scar-like tissue, slow breast tumour growth and improve chemotherapy effectiveness. This research is supported by Love Your Sister in association with the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Australia.

Dr David Gallego-Ortega

Group Leader – Tumour Development

Dr Gallego-Ortega’s project will provide investigate the use of a new medical device established at Garvan for use in personalised medicine. The Alginate-based Tissue Encapsulation (ALTEN) device is a biomimetic hydrogel platform that allows researchers to test anticancer drugs on a patient’s own tumour biopsy. ALTEN keeps the original tissue of tumour biopsies intact, which more closely resembles a patient’s tumour than other methods and enables rapid drug testing of patient samples. The technology has the potential to predict therapeutic response and drug resistance, and to inform a patient’s treatment strategy in real time.

Professor Paul Timpson

Theme Leader – Cancer

CDK4/6 inhibitors are the emerging standard of care in advanced endocrine resistant breast cancer, but there currently is no way to treat patients once cancer cells develop resistance to this treatment. Using cutting-edge imaging technology and 3D patient-derived models that mimic the disease, Professor Timpson’s team will map areas of poor drug response and track resistance within distinct regions of tumours. The researchers aim to counteract factors driving drug resistance to improve the effectiveness of CDK4/6 inhibitors to treat breast cancer. This research is supported by Love Your Sister in association with the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Australia.