Lab Canada

Breast cancer metastasis the target of $5.5M funding

Toronto, ON – Two multi-disciplinary Canadian research teams have embarked on ambitious projects that will provide vital clues to reduce breast cancer mortality.

Dr Ann Chambers in London, ON, and Dr Shoukat Dedhar in Vancouver will lead the two projects, which were awarded funding in the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance’s grant competition with special support from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. The competition was created to encourage and support the generation of multidisciplinary teams using new technologies and innovative approaches to develop preclinical models to understand metastasis.

“By the time a woman presents with metastatic breast cancer, it is usually too late to help,” explains Dr Dedhar, senior scientist with the BC Cancer Agency. “However, there is no reason why this should be the case. The experimental models proposed in this study will identify new molecular therapeutic and diagnostic targets specific for the growth of breast cancer metastases in different organs. We expect this will result in the development of specific drugs against these targets.”

The possibility of controlling metastatic growth in specific organs has not been the focus of research or treatment, due to a lack of understanding about the genes and proteins that drive the growth of breast cancer cells in those organs. In Dr Dedhar’s study, each of the researchers will be investigating new ways to understand why breast cancer cells thrive in the microenvironment of certain organs. The program is designed to generate synergistic interactions amongst the researchers resulting in the acceleration of novel therapeutic and diagnostic strategies for the control of breast cancer.

Dr Dedhar’s program is a collaboration of the BC Cancer Agency, University of British Columbia, and Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Co-investigators include Dr Arun Seth, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre; Dr Christopher Overall and Dr Calvin Roskelley of University of British Columbia.

In London, Dr Ann Chambers’ team will develop new experimental models and procedures, including videomicroscopy, which enables researchers to visualize how breast cancer cells spread inside the body via lymph nodes. Dr Chambers is senior scientist at the London regional cancer program and Canada research chair in oncology. Her multidisciplinary team will focus on understanding the steps that occur as cancer cells spread from a breast tumour to lymph nodes and beyond, and will develop microscopy techniques to find, follow and destroy these rare, but potentially lethal, cells.

A unique aspect of Dr Chambers’ study is the involvement of a breast cancer survivor in both preparing the grant proposal and in the ongoing work. Catherine Ebbs is a seven-year breast cancer survivor who is active in the breast cancer community and a holder of a PhD in education. Dr Ebbs’ roles on the research team are to bring the breast cancer patient’s perspective to the research, and to facilitate the dissemination of the teams’ research to the lay community.