Unravelling the complex ecosystem of breast tumours to advance personalised breast cancer treatment
Published: 05/11/23 8:35 AM
Project Description: A breast tumour is a complex mixture of malignant, immune and other cells that interact with each other to support the establishment and expansion of the cancer. In this study, Prof Alex Swarbrick (Garvan Institute of Medical Research) will use the latest genomic technologies to analyse individual cancer cells with respect to their tumour location to reveal molecular changes (in the genes and proteins) in the complex breast cancer ecosystem that may control breast cancer cellular behaviour and drug response. A greater understanding of this complex ‘ecosystem’ could assist with the development of biomarkers for earlier detection and treatment response and potentially provide new therapeutic targets for personalised medicine strategies.
Why the Work is Needed: Most breast tumours are classified and treated with drugs targeting three key receptors, estrogen, progesterone and HER2. However some breast cancers do not respond to these routine hormonal and targeted therapies and are therefore lethal. A personalised treatment approach is needed to improve the clinical management of hard-to-treat breast cancers.
Expected Outcomes: Outcomes from this study will a yield a greater understanding of the complex ecosystems present within and surrounding breast cancers with the potential to reveal new and previously unrecognised breast cancer subtypes and personalised approaches to the detection and management of breast cancer. The study will also provide a valuable resource that could be accessed by other researchers to help accelerate breast cancer research.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australian women, with over 20,000 new cases reported in 2022. Despite significant improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease, breast cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer related deaths in Australia. While several major subtypes of breast cancer have been identified that aid in clinical treatment decisions, breast cancer is in fact a complex set of diseases where a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not always apply. Thus, a personalised approached for the treatment of breast cancer is needed to improve the outcomes of those breast cancer patients with breast cancers that do not respond to conventional treatments.
With previous support from NBCF, Prof Alex Swarbrick and the team generated a comprehensive biobank of greater than 300 primary tissue samples from patients with breast cancers. The team have used state-of-the-art techniques including single cell RNA-sequencing capable of genetically profiling thousands of individual cells to reveal the composition of different cell types within these tumour samples. This resulted in the world-first cellular atlas of breast cancer.
In this study, Prof Alex Swarbrick will now focus on the cases with poorest outcomes, to understand molecular changes (in the genes and proteins) in the breast cancer ecosystem that may control cellular behaviour and drug response. With this high-resolution approach the study could assist with the development of biomarkers for earlier detection and treatment response and potentially provide new therapeutic targets for personalised medicine strategies.