Researcher Spotlight: Our Breast Cancer Researchers
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and with breast cancer estimated to become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia this year*, research into the disease is more important than ever. This month, we take a closer look at the Cure Cancer Australia researchers working in the breast cancer space.
Sadly, many of us have had an experience with breast cancer, whether we have been affected ourselves, or know someone who has. It is incredibly common in women, with an estimated 17,586 females diagnosed in Australia alone this year. Although breast cancer is less common in males, it does still occur, with 144 diagnoses* estimated in 2017. If these estimates are correct, breast cancer will take the lead from prostate cancer (the most commonly diagnosed cancer in 2013**) to become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia.
There are several different types of breast cancer, and treatment depends on the stage and type of the disease, as well as the severity of symptoms and the person’s general health. Treatment usually involves surgery to remove part or all of the affected breast, and removal of one or more lymph nodes from the armpit. This is often combined with radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapies, and/or targeted therapies. Breast reconstruction may also be available for women who have the whole breast removed (mastectomy).
Because of its prevalence, research into breast cancer is more crucial than ever before, which is why Cure Cancer Australia has funded 41 research grants into breast cancer since 2000. These projects have been conducted by 37 different researchers in 18 institutions across Australia.
Right now, we’re supporting Yuan Cao, Clare Slaney and Heidi Hilton***, three incredibly bright and dedicated researchers funded through the Cancer Australia Priority-driven Cancer Research Scheme for their work involving breast cancer. You can read more about their individual research projects here.
Shweta Tikoo (2016 grant recipient):
Shweta's project has focused on gaining a better understanding of the microenvironment that exists in breast tumours in order to contain and isolate cancer cells, which in turn could lead to better treatment and survival chances for patients.
She has been interested in establishing a model to study the spread of breast cancer cells to distant organs, and the role of immune cells in this process. ‘If we can understand how these cells mediate the spread of the disease, we can devise strategies to combat metastasis,’ explains Shweta.
Patsy Soon (2015 grant recipient):
Patsy (who, in addition to being a cancer researcher, has worked as a breast surgeon for over a decade), noticed that patients whose breast cancer recurs early often have the ‘triple negative’ subtype of the disease, which exhibits a resistance to therapy and has a generally poor prognosis. Patsy’s research has focused on a type of cell in the body that supports cancer cells known as cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), and identified chemicals produced by CAFs which make the cancer cells more aggressive.
‘My research grant has supported my studies into the CAFs from triple negative breast cancers, and has helped me to find out more about what makes the cells more aggressive so we can look to develop new targets for future treatment,’ explains Patsy.
By supporting their innovative ideas, Cure Cancer Australia are giving these brilliant researchers an opportunity to make real progress in the fight against breast cancer.
Research into breast cancer is crucial, but it’s important to remember that Cure Cancer Australia fund early-career researchers working across all areas of research and ALL cancer types. By doing this, we hope that we will one day find a cure for every type of cancer.
***: Yuan, Clare, Fernando, Shweta and Patsy’s grants have all been solely supported by the Can Too Foundation.