Dr Liz Caldon:
Seeking Better Outcomes for Breast Cancer Patients
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month draws to a close, we catch up with Cure Cancer Australia Alumnus Dr. Liz Caldon, whose work at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research focuses on seeking better outcomes for breast cancer patients.
It was a pleasure to catch up with past grant recipient Dr. Liz Caldon at the Cure Cancer Australia and Can Too Foundation Spring Lab Tour, which took place at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research earlier this month.
Liz first received a grant from Cure Cancer Australia (supported by the Can Too Foundation) in 2011 to fund her work investigating DNA damage checkpoints in breast cancer. This led to backing from several other funding bodies as Liz’s career progressed, and she now collaborates with scientists all over Australia to continuously develop and advance her work.
Seeking better outcomes for breast cancer patients
One of the current focuses of Liz’s work (who now leads the Replication and Genome Stability Group in Garvan's Cancer Division) is on seeking better outcomes for breast cancer patients, and exploring ways to prevent the disease from coming back.
Liz gave an incredibly insightful presentation on her work at the lab tour, highlighting the fact that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed female cancer in Australia, affecting 1 in 8 women. It also affects 1 in 750 men before the age of 80, and has a 33% rate or recurrence within 15 years of initial diagnosis despite therapy. Sadly, recurrences are harder to treat, and if they are metastatic (i.e. secondary cancers at sites other than the breast) they are usually resistant to further therapy, and eventually fatal.
On a more positive note, 88% of patients today are still alive five years after diagnosis. This is thanks to routine mammography, self-screening and awareness, vastly improved surgical techniques, anti-hormone therapy and chemotherapy.
The Cane Toad Theory
Liz went on to discuss whether it is possible to prevent the recurrence of drug resistant breast cancer, comparing the unstoppable spread of the Cane Toad in Australia to the metastasis of drug resistant breast cancer.
102 Cane Toads were released in Australia in 1935 in an attempt to control the native grey-backed cane beetle and Frenchi beetle. Unfortunately, this only served to cause more problems – the cane toad has devastated local wildlife by eating smaller animals, spreading viruses and killing larger predators who die from the poison in their glands. There are now estimated to be over 2 million cane toads across QL, NT, NSW and WA. Scientists have looked to reduce the spread of cane toads by targeting their life cycle, and have found that the egg/tadpole phase is the most drug sensitive stage.
1.7 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide each year, and up to 1.2 million of these women are eligible for hormone therapy. However, 40% of those who receive hormone therapy develop resistance and metastatic disease. Liz and her team are exploring whether the same life cycle targeting principles can be applied to reduce the metastasis of breast cancer; i.e. targeting breast cancer cells early in their life cycle. Liz is looking to ascertain whether earlier intervention targeting intermediate cell types can lead to a better prognosis for breast cancer patients. This is further explained in the slides below:
So far, the results have been incredibly positive. 'Our work points to there being a vulnerability in the cells soon after they start to develop resistance, and we are now determining if we can use therapy to kill the cancer cells at this stage of their lifecycle,' explains Liz.
Liz went on to highlight how instrumental the early-career funding from Cure Cancer Australia has been to the progression of her work;
‘Cure Cancer funded me at a pivotal moment in my career, for which I am so grateful. To have people believe in you and fund you can make all the difference. This grant started my career as a research scientist.’
The impact of Liz’s early-career grant has been outlined here:
A huge thank you to Dr. Liz Caldon for sharing her amazing work with us. Please keep supporting early-career researchers like Liz. By doing so, you are bringing us one step closer to achieving our mission. Let’s make this the last generation to die from cancer.
You can donate to Cure Cancer Australia here.