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New and Improved treatments

Mapping the Cell Atlas of Breast Cancer

Garvan Institute of Medical Research Associate Professor

Alex Swarbrick

  • Project Description: Associate Professor Swarbrick and his team are working together to develop a world-first breast cancer cell atlas.
  • Why this work is needed: There is currently limited understanding of the complex cellular ‘ecosystem’ of breast cancers and how the many cell types interact to define disease behaviour and therapeutic response. This work will allow researchers to identify all the cell types present in different types of breast cancers. It will also help to identify the characteristics of all of these cells at a single cell resolution, including the relative levels of drug targets on the different cell types. This may reveal clues about treatment effectiveness and resistance, and also may identify new treatment targets.
  • Expected outcomes: The information gained from this project will be available to all other researchers. This will help to support new research projects in areas of targeted therapies, immunotherapy and biomarkers.

Project details
Breast cancers are a complex ‘ecosystem’ of many cell types. These cell interactions play a central role in defining the behaviour of the disease and its response to therapy. However, our poor understanding of the cellular ecosystem of breast cancers has limited the development of new drug classes that target these interactions. A new technology, known as Single Cell Genomics (SCG), is revolutionising biological research and providing breakthrough insights into disease. SCG allows for the simultaneous measurement of many features important to cancer from thousands of individual cells in a tissue sample. This includes features like gene expression, immune activation and drug target levels.

In a new NBCF-funded study, Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick will use SCG to develop a world-first breast cancer cell atlas that will identify all the cell types present in a large cohort of different breast cancer types. This atlas will also identify the relative levels of drug targets on the cell types, which helps to provide a list of potential treatment options with a particular focus on immunotherapy drug targets.

The data in the atlas will be available freely to all other interested researchers. This will help to support many new research projects in the fields of targeted therapies, immunotherapy and biomarkers.

Garvan Institute of Medical Research Associate Professor

Alex Swarbrick