Dr Peter Simpson
University of Queensland
NBCF Early Career Fellowship

Peter_Simpson_270x187Dr Simpson is interested in identifying genes that are altered in a specific type of breast cancer, called invasive lobular breast cancer. While invasive lobular breast cancer is relatively common, clinicians do not currently understand why some patients may do well and respond readily to treatment, while others have a poor prognosis. Dr Simpson’s research is aimed at looking how changes in patterns of specific genes in invasive lobular breast cancer may provide clues as to how the tumour will progress and what will be the outcome for the patient.

What inspires you to work in breast cancer research?

I have wanted to be involved in breast cancer research for a long time, ever since a close family friend died young from this disease. Despite a considerable international effort over many years, many gaps in our understanding of how breast cancer develops and spreads remain. In fact, the more we delve into a particular area of research, the more we realise how complex breast cancer is and how much more there is to learn. Being a breast cancer researcher is a fascinating journey and it is inspiring to know that the progress we make contributes globally to the fight against this disease.

What do you see as the greatest advances in breast cancer research in the past
10 years?

The past 10 years have seen rapid developments in new technology that we use to study breast cancer. This has enabled us to generate very detailed data about the biology of different types of breast cancer. These data will help us to develop better and more appropriate treatment strategies for patients.

Your research is looking at a common type of breast cancer known as invasive lobular carcinoma. What is invasive lobular carcinoma and what aspects of this breast cancer type are you investigating?

Invasive lobular carcinoma is an important type of breast cancer with some peculiar characteristics, which mean it is not straightforward to diagnose or treat. The tumour often grows without forming a mass and can be difficult to detect through screening or to feel during surgery, and a patient may develop metastases many years later.

My program of work is quite broad. I am attempting to understand different aspects of invasive lobular carcinoma. This involves collaborations with doctors and scientists from different disciplines such as radiology, surgery, pathology and basic science. We wish to know more about why these tumours develop, what genes are involved in promoting tumour spread and how to predict which patients are most at risk of developing secondary cancer.

How will your research impact on detection methods, treatment and patient survival?

We hope that this work will impact upon each of these important and interrelated areas of patient need. For example, a subgroup of invasive lobular carcinomas can be very difficult to detect by screening mammography. This means the tumour may be more developed by the time it is diagnosed. We are trying to determine why this is and whether these tumours are associated with worse outcomes. We are also trying to identify the genes that are causing tumours to grow and spread as this may help us to discover useful targets for therapy. In combination, this work may lead to better outcomes for patients.

What are the challenges for breast cancer research internationally in the coming years?

It is quite clear that breast cancer is a very diverse and complex disease. Some patients respond quite well to current treatments whereas for other patients, the treatment fails and they go on to develop secondary disease. There is now a great wealth of data available that has identified many of the genes that are involved in breast cancer. The challenges for the future are to utilise these data to identify the most appropriate therapy for an individual based on the specific characteristics of their tumour.

How important is the community’s role in supporting breast cancer research?

We are indebted to the community’s support for breast cancer research. Obtaining support for research is very competitive. We are so fortunate in the breast cancer field to have NBCF to provide fellowship grant schemes, which help junior scientists to develop into competitive and independent researchers.