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New and Improved treatments

Locating cellular communities in Breast Cancer

Garvan Institute of Medical Research Dr

Daniel Roden

Project Description: Breast cancer is the second highest cause of cancer-related death for women. Metastatic disease and resistance to targeted treatments still present a major challenge for treating clinicians and the survival of patients with advanced and relapsed breast cancer remains poor. Breast cancer tumour tissue contains many different cell types, and their presence and interactions are known to play important roles in the response to treatment and prognosis. This project aims to better characterise the individual cells in hard-to-treat tumours, and how these cells interact with each other to better understand why some tumours respond to treatment and others do not. 

Why This Work is Needed: As our understanding of the complexity of breast cancer grows, it is now becoming more important to characterise the individual cells within a tumour. Importantly a detailed characterisation of the types of cancerous cells that can be specifically targeted by therapeutics is essential to ensure that treatments target every cancerous cell in the tumour. With advances in single cell and spatial genomic technologies, scientists are now poised to learn more about individual cells which may help clinicians better manage and treat patients.  

Expected Outcomes: By investigating tumour composition in more detail, individual communities of cell types that are associated with poor outcome will be identified. This will allow more precise assessment of prognosis for breast cancer patients and may also allow more efficient targeted treatment options. 

Project Details  

One of the most significant revolutions in the treatment of breast cancer has been the classification of subtypes. For example, estrogen receptor positive tumours respond very well to anti-estrogen therapy and HER2 positive breast cancers respond to anti-HER2 drugs. The ability to classify breast cancer subtypes helps clinicians tailor treatments specifically to each tumour type and has led to significant improvements in outcomes. 

However, advances in genomic technologies have revealed an even greater complexity to breast cancer subtypes that previously thought. Within a tumour, many different cell types can be identified, these different cell types and the interactions between them, can affect prognosis and treatment response in breast cancer patients. 

Recently, Dr Daniel Roden (Garvan Institute of Medical Research) and his team have developed new methods to identify the cell types present in breast tumour tissue. However, an important missing piece of the puzzle is how these cancer cells co-locate, communicate and interact with each other within the tumour. This project will use state-of-the-art molecular imaging techniques to identify the types of “cellular neighbourhoods” that exist in poor prognosis tumours. This will lead to a better understanding of why some cancers are harder to treat than others. 

Garvan Institute of Medical Research Dr

Daniel Roden