Dr Yuan Cao

Inhibiting a key protein in breast cancer

Yuan is a researcher at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the University of Melbourne. Yuan is focused on finding a new therapy to prevent or control the spread of breast cancer.

Currently around 30% of breast cancer deaths are due to metastasis - the spread of breast cancer to other parts of the body. This includes some diagnosed at an early stage. “Once metastatic disease is established, very few curative treatments are available,” she says.

The research

Yuan’s research is aimed at using the body’s immune system to halt this progression. In particular, her research aims to investigate protein target MMP12, which is present in tumours and acts on immune cells to divert their proper responses.

“I aim to determine the feasibility of using a protein inhibitor to promote the immune response against cancer, using the body’s natural defence system. This would open the door to the therapeutic use of MMP12 inhibitors,” she says.

If this project is completed successfully , it will lead to further funding for clinical trials.

Ultimately, if her hypothesis is proven, the spread of breast cancer to organs may be prevented or controlled, which would make it no longer a life-threatening disease in humans.

Remain positive

Yuan is extremely grateful to Cure Cancer Australia donors and fundraisers and urges patients to remain positive and maintain hope.

“I understand and empathise with the anxiety, stress and sorrow the disease can cause,” she says, having herself lost relatives to cancer.

Indeed, it was the experience of losing her grandmother to bladder cancer that motivated Yuan to a career in cancer research.

“I know that there are many researchers like me who dedicate themselves to fighting this disease,” she says.

Yuan, who was born in Shanghai, loves living in Melbourne. She enjoys the city’s sea, landscape and friendly people, and spends her spare time reading, painting or socialising with friends.


Yuan is funded by Cure Cancer Australia through the Cancer Australia Priority-driven Cancer Support Scheme. Her grant is supported by The Can Too Foundation.

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