Dr Philip Gregory

NBCF Early Career Fellow
Centre for Cancer Biology

Dr-Philip-Gregory-Portrait-2012Dr Philip Gregory is researching the new and exciting area of ‘microRNAs’. These are tiny particles of genetic material that exist inside cells and regulate how our genes are switched on and off. MicroRNAs were only discovered relatively recently and their role in the development of breast cancer is just beginning to be explored.

Dr Gregory is interested in how microRNAs may cause breast cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body – a process known as metastasis. Metastatic (or secondary) breast cancer is currently very difficult to treat effectively, so understanding how metastasis occurs could lead to the development of more effective treatments and improved prevention strategies.

What do you see as the greatest advances in breast cancer research in the last ten years?
Research over the last ten years has provided us with a much greater understanding of breast cancer. This has led to remarkable developments in more ‘targeted’ therapies. These new treatments (e.g. Herceptin) have been very effective in treating certain types of breast cancer.

Another major advance has been in our understanding of how breast cancers spread to other parts of the body. Until recently, little was known about how the cells were able to break away from the primary tumour, survive in the blood circulation and then grow in different organs or tissues. We now have a much better understanding of the processes that determine if, and where, breast cancer will spread.

What challenges, do you feel, breast cancer research faces in the coming years?
With the emergence of new technologies that examine individual breast cancer cells in patients, it has become clear that breast cancer is a very diverse disease. Not every cell may be contributing to the progression of the disease. This makes designing new treatments challenging. There may need to be a range of treatment options for different patients and for different stages of the disease. Our current ability to effectively identify the best treatments is better than it has ever been and will continue to improve.

How do you envisage the impact of your research on other areas of breast cancer research, treatments and patient outcomes?
Other researchers in the international community have recently shown that inhibiting the action of microRNAs, when combined with chemotherapy, is effective in eradicating aggressive breast cancer cells. As we learn more about these microRNAs, we hope to develop safe and effective treatments that will lead to improved patient outcomes.

What inspires you to work in breast cancer research?
I am inspired by the many stories I hear from people who have been impacted by breast cancer and also the community’s support for research into this disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer to affect women. It is also indiscriminate by nature. I consider it a privilege to be a breast cancer researcher and receive support from NBCF.

How important is the community’s role in supporting breast cancer research?
I value the community’s support and encouragement to keep on striving to find better breast cancer treatments. I believe the community plays a vital role in supporting research through fundraising, their generous donations and by sharing their stories. It is through the community’s support of NBCF, which funds critical research, that we will find better treatments for breast cancer.