Instructing mammary cell identity: genomic and epigenomic factors regulating cell fate during development and tumorigenesis
Worldwide, more than one million women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, making it the most common malignancy of females in the developed world. Approximately one-third of breast cancer patients will have tumours that become resistant to standard chemotherapy, and their tumours may relapse and subsequently metastasise. This is thought to be due to the existence of a small population of drug-resistant cells, which may initiate and maintain the tumour. The cells have been termed ‘breast cancer stem cells’ and may originate from normal breast stem cells. The purpose of this project is to understand how healthy mammary stem cells are maintained in the breast and how this process goes awry in breast cancer. We will do this by studying a group of proteins known as “epigenetic modifiers”, which instruct cell identity and behaviour. This knowledge will aid in the earlier detection of tumours and in design and development of novel therapeutic strategies for patients with advanced and metastatic disease.