2 researchers receive $500,000 to fight metastatic breast cancer
The Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation and The Cancer Research Society jointly launched the 100 Years of Research Competition in the fall of 2020 and are proud to announce the two researchers who will each receive $500,000 for their research projects on metastatic breast cancer.
Metastatic cancer is considered incurable and the majority of people living with this diagnosis are under continuous treatment to limit the progression of the disease and mitigate the side effects. This is why it is important to maximize research and support efforts to develop the most innovative treatments available.
Discover the 2 winners of the 100 Years of Research Competition
DR. MARK BASIK
When breast cancer spreads outside of the breast (metastasis) to the liver, the lung, the skin, the brain or the bones, it is no longer curable, even if the size of the metastases is not very large. One of the reasons for this is likely that the tumors live in a special “environment” which protects them from anti-cancer drugs and immune attack. Although this environment or “stroma” has been well studied in the primary cancer in the breast by Dr. Mark Basik’s group, it has not been studied in metastases.
Their initial studies from biopsies of metastatic breast cancer have shown that the “supporting” cells that surround the tumor cells are special, and make factors that protect the tumor from chemotherapy drugs, make it grow faster and also weaken the immune response to the tumor. Thanks to their large collection of metastatic tumor biopsies from 73 women with metastatic triple negative breast cancer, the most deadly of breast cancers, they have a unique opportunity to perform an in-depth study of this “environment”, to identify substances produced by the supporting cells that contribute to the protection of tumor cells from both chemotherapy and the immune system in the different places where breast cancer can spread. Using a novel technology that allows them to look separately at the supporting cells and the tumor cells in metastatic tumors, Dr Mark Basik will unravel the nature of this communication between the two, so as to understand how the environment protects the tumor cells in each of the places where they have spread and grown.
Dr. Mark Basik will use new technology to look at the cells that surround the tumour when it spreads outside the breast (to the liver, the lungs, the skin or the brain) since in these cases the cells form an environment around the tumour that protects it from treatments and makes them ineffective.
DR. MORAG PARK
Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) represents 15% of breast cancers and is the most aggressive. Current care remains chemotherapy, yet despite an initial response, about 60% of TNBC patients have residual disease, that may be difficult to detect, becomes resistant to chemotherapy and is associated with increased risk of distant metastasis. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) treatment represents a unique yet underdeveloped window of opportunity to target therapy-resistant tumor cells at an early stage, and thus offers the promise of achieving a durable cure. TNBC cells that develop resistance to NAC can transition through a state that they believe and will test in this grant is reversible and sensitive to new therapies.
Dr. Morag Park have shown that residual tumor cells release a series of factors promoting tumor cell survival and escape from immune recognition, leading to eventual tumor relapse and metastatic progression. She proposes to build a comprehensive understanding of these treatment-induced transitions to unravel mechanisms that allow them to prevent resistance to therapy and TNBC progression. This proposal will exploit a new ‘one-two punch’ approach using existing NAC followed by approved and emerging drugs, called anti-senescence and epigenetic therapies, to target vulnerabilities of TNBC residual metastasis promoting tumor cells. Availability of longitudinal clinical samples from patients undergoing monitoring of NAC response uniquely increases clinical translation of their proposal.
Dr. Morag Park will focus on triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) cells, specifically residual tumors that develop resistance to neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) and increase the risk of metastasis. She will seek to better understand the transition that cells make that makes them resistant to treatment in order to better prevent and counteract this resistance.
We are very excited to be a part of the advancement of metastatic breast cancer research and look forward to seeing these projects take shape!