Cell type specificity of progesterone action in the normal human breast and in breast cancer

Start Year: 2012
Finish Year: 2015
Chief Investigator: Dr Heidi Hilton
Grant Type: Postdoctoral Fellowship
Institution: Westmead Institute for Cancer Research

Postdoctoral Training Fellowship

The hormone progesterone is critical in normal breast development, as well as being a key component in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and the oral contraceptive pill, which has contributed to its emergence as a major driver of breast cancer risk.

During normal development, breast stem cells differentiate into different cell types, called progenitor cells. These eventually develop into mature luminal and myoepithelial cells.

Research has suggested that the stem and progenitor cells are targets for cancer initiation. Dr Hilton and her colleagues have previously demonstrated that progesterone action can regulate this cell differentiation process in human breast cells. Dr Hilton is now studying the impact of progesterone on proliferation in specific cell types in the normal breast as well as in individuals who are genetically predisposed to high lifetime risks of breast cancer.

Defining the impact of progesterone action on progenitor cell proliferation will provide valuable insight into how changes in progesterone signalling (which may occur during HRT) may result in increased susceptibility to breast cancer. This understanding may lead to prevention strategies aimed at interrupting progesterone action to reverse the process.

This research is co-funded by NBCF and Cure Cancer Australia Foundation.