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November 13, 2015

The role of the spleen in breast cancer growth and spread

Postdoctoral Training Fellowship

The immune system has the potential to both kill tumour cells and support their growth. This project is focused on the role that the immune system plays in breast cancer, with the aim of harnessing its tumour-killing capacity as a new way to treat breast cancer.

A breast tumour is typically made up of cancerous cells as well as non-cancerous cells, including immune cells. Initially, immune cells both within the tumour and circulating in the body restrict the growth of tumours. However, some breast cancers are able to change the function of these immune cells to promote tumour growth and spread to other organs and tissues in the body. This allows secondary cancers or metastases to form, which eventually can lead to death.

It is thought that immune cells, which come from bone marrow stem cells, move directly from the bone marrow to the tumour. Dr Andreas Möller is challenging this theory. He aims to show that immune cells are ‘educated’ by signals from the breast tumour, causing them to move to the breast tumour and promote growth and spread.

Dr Möller will examine the accumulation and education of tumour-promoting immune cells, as well as investigate what happens to tumour growth and spread when these cells are selectively depleted.

Treatment options for patients with advanced breast cancer are extremely limited. If successful, this study could pave the way for new and highly targeted therapies against specific components of the immune system, with potential to slow disease progression and reduce the burden of metastatic disease.