Mapping the Cell Atlas of Breast Cancer

Start Year: 2019
Finish Year: 2021
Chief Investigator: Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick
Institution: Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Breast cancers are a complex ‘ecosystem’ of many cell types. These cell interactions play a central role in defining the behaviour of the disease and its response to therapy. However, our poor understanding of the cellular ecosystem of breast cancers has limited the development of new drug classes that target these interactions. A new technology, known as Single Cell Genomics (SCG), is revolutionising biological research and providing breakthrough insights into disease. SCG allows for the simultaneous measurement of many features important to cancer from thousands of individual cells in a tissue sample. This includes features like gene expression, immune activation and drug target levels.

In a new NBCF-funded study, Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick will use SCG to develop a world-first “breast cancer cell atlas” that will identify all the cell types present in a large cohort of different breast cancer types. This atlas will also identify the relative levels of drug targets on the cell types, which helps to provide a list of potential treatment options with a particular focus on immunotherapy drug targets.

The data in the atlas will be available freely to all other interested researchers. This will help to support many new research projects in the fields of targeted therapies, immunotherapy and biomarkers.