Identifying target cells at the origin of breast cancer

Start Year: 2011
Finish Year: 2015
Chief Investigator: Dr Naiyang Fu
Grant Type: Postdoctoral Fellowship
Institution: The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Postdoctoral Training Fellowship

Breast cancer is the worldwide leading cause of cancer-related death in women. Breast cancer is believed to originate from epithelial cells that normally line the breast ducts. It is now recognised to be a very heterogeneous disease, comprising a number of distinct subtypes, based on tumour appearance and gene expression. Recently, evidence has emerged to suggest that breast epithelium is organised in a ‘hierarchical’ manner: at the apex of the hierarchy are multipotent stem cells, which give rise to daughter (progenitor) cells and ultimately more mature breast cells. It is not known whether different subtypes of breast cancer arise from different breast epithelial cell types.

This project develops new models in which the human breast cancer-related oncogenes c-myc or ErbB2 (HER2) are conditionally over-expressed in specific epithelial subpopulations in order to define the cell types that give rise to mammary tumours. Identification of the ‘cells of origin’ of breast cancer would have profound implications for the identification of clinically useful diagnostic and prognostic markers, as well as the design of targeted therapies.

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