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Translational Breast Cancer Research Studentships, 2012-2013

Niamh Coughlan

Niamh Coughlan is a PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry working under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Torchia. She is studying the p/CIP/CARM1 coactivator complex in estrogen-dependent gene regulation in an attempt to clarify the role of the oncogene p/CIP in estrogen-dependent breast cancers. By identifying key target genes of the complex, and understanding the mechanism that regulates them, the hope is to develop new therapeutic strategies, leading to more effective treatment for p/CIP-overexpressing breast cancers.

 

 

Alysha Croker

Alysha Croker is a PhD student in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, working under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan.  She is interested in the role of a specific type of breast cancer cell, the tumor-initiating cell (TIC), which she has found plays a major role in breast cancer metastasis and therapy resistance. She is investigating whether a protein called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) (which is highly expressed in TICs and is even used to identify TICs) plays a functional role in breast cancer metastasis. Her aim is to further the understanding of the metastatic process in order to identify novel potential therapeutic targets.

 

 

Stephanie Dorman

Stephanie Dorman is a PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry, under the supervision of Dr. Peter Rogan. Her lab has recently proposed that there is a set of stable genes that are not mutated and remain unchanged in 90% of breast cancer tumours, some of which are targets of routine chemotherapy agents. She hopes to use this stable genes set to identify specific clinical tests that can be used to predict chemotherapy resistance based on the genetics of the breast cancer tumour being treated. Metastatic breast cancer patients have a median survival of approximately 2 years and would greatly benefit from the development of a consistent test and/or guideline to select the chemotherapy agents that will most likely be successful.

 

 

Edwin Dovigi

Edwin Dovigi is an MSc student in the Department of Biochemistry, under the supervision of Dr. Peter Rogan.  The lack of information on the varying impact of patient-specific breast cancer mutations prevents doctors from providing their patients with a meaningful prognosis and high quality of care.  It is the goal of my research to both identify mutations undetected by routine diagnostics and to determine the effects of mutations on breast cancer etiology through analyses on breast cancer patient DNA.   

 

 

Omar El-Sherif

Omar El-Sherif is a PhD student in the Department of Medical Biophysics, under the supervision of Dr. Stewart Gaede. Their work focuses specifically on left-sided breast cancer radiation therapy treatment planning. In the case of left-sided breast cancer radiation treatment, the motion of the heart caused by respiration can lead to significant heart irradiation during treatment. Radiation-induced toxicity of the heart may lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease later in a patient's life. Their research goal is to develop radiation therapy treatment plans that incorporate each patient's specific breathing pattern in an attempt to minimize radiation to the heart.

 

Ashley Esarik

Ashley Esarik is a MSc student in the Department of Chemistry under the supervision of Dr. Len Luyt. Tumours are difficult to detect entirely because they contain subpopulations of aggressively invasive tumour cells that are resistant to radiation and chemotherapies. In this project, mimics of a peptide will be developed as imaging agents to detect breast cancer subtypes in patients. Early detection would allow for an improved outcome by separating the patients into different treatment streams depending on the degree of aggressiveness.

 

Jeff Gaudet

 

Jeff Gaudet is an MSc student in the Department of Medical Biophysics, under the supervision of Dr. Paula Foster. I will be working on using MRI to track the effectiveness of using cell-based therapies to generate an immune system response to breast cancer cells. The cells will be tracked using iron nanoparticles in a mouse model. 

Cameron Goertzen

Cameron Goertzen is an MSc student in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, under the supervision of Dr. Moshmi Bhattacharya. We have identified that a receptor protein called KISS1R stimulates breast cancer cell migration and invasion, processes required for the metastatic spread of breast cancer cells. KISS1R generally functions in an anti-metastatic capacity in numerous other cancers. Utilizing advanced imaging techniques he is determining whether breast cancer cells depleted of KISS1R form tumors in vivo using animal models of metastasis, and the mechanisms by which this occurs. These studies will dictate whether the KISS1R signaling pathway maybe a novel clinical target for the treatment of breast cancer metastasis.


Ivan Kosik

Ivan Kosik is an MSc student in the Department of Medical Biophysics, under the supervision of Dr. Jeffrey Carson.  Photoacoustic imaging uses safe-wavelength laser light to generate ultrasonic signals encoded with a broad range of information about the subject of interest. The development of an hand-held photoacoustic imaging system capable of decoding the ultrasonic data in real time to generate images of the volume of interest, holds the potential to significantly enhance the information pool used to classify abnormalities as malignant or benign

 

 

Xuguang Liu

Xuguang Liu is a PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry, under the supervision of Dr. Shawn Li. His project focuses on using engineered SH2 monobodies to inhibit specific ErbB signaling pathways. Extremely high activity of ErbB protein and subsequent abnormal signaling pathways is a main cause of HER2 breast cancer. In Li lab, the natural ErbB binding partner SH2 is engineered to create an ErbB superbinder, and preliminary work reveals the potential to further modify this superbinder to block specific regions in ErbB protein coupling with cancer-relevant signaling pathways.

 

Matthew Lowerison

Matthew Lowerison is an MSc student in the Department of Medical Biophysics, under the co-supervision of Drs. James Lacefield and Ann Chambers. He is interested in the effectiveness of Doppler ultrasound as a method to evaluate breast cancer therapy and patient outcome. Treatments that inhibit tumor-induced angiogenesis, effectively starving a breast cancer of blood and nutrients, have been shown to be clinically effective but difficult to evaluate. To this end, he is working on a Doppler blood flow map to distinguish successful from unsuccessful treatments at an earlier stage, thereby sparing a patient both critical time and exposure to drug side effects.

 

Connor MacMillan

Connor MacMillan is an MSc student in the Department of Pathology, under the supervision of Drs. Ann Chambers and Alan Tuck.  I study the cellular and molecular controls of breast cancer progression from a non invasive to an invasive cancer. I do this using an in vitro model of breast cancer progression.

 

 

 

 

Mousumi Majumder

Mousumi Majumder, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow working under the supervision of Dr.P.K.Lala in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, U.W.O. She is conducting research on understanding how “stem like cells”, responsible for breast cancer perpetuation and relapse after traditional therapy, are induced and maintained by an inflammation-associated enzyme cyclo-oxygenase-2 and how this process can be stopped with simple drugs. She discovered two small molecules known as microRNAs as candidate stem cell biomarkers that will help to personalize therapy, and monitor disease status after therapy. This discovery raises new hope for eradication of breast cancer.

 

Donna Murrell

Donna Murrell is an MSc student in the Department of Medical Biophysics, under the supervision of Dr. Paula Foster. Her project involves the use of advanced MRI techniques to study the permeability of the BBB (blood-brain-barrier) in breast cancer metastasis to the brain. It is thought that impermeability of the BBB hinders the delivery of therapeutic agents to brain tumours and causes many chemo and molecular treatment options to be ineffective. By identifying what influences metastatic tumour growth and permeability in the brain, the hope is to advance the development of treatments for brain tumours.

 

Mauricio Rodriguez

Mauricio Rodriguez is a PhD student in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan. Metastatic breast cancer cells do not thrive in all organs, but instead show preference for migrating to and growing in specific organs including lymph node, lung, liver, brain, and bone. Our recent studies indicate that breast cancer cells with both high activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) enzyme and high expression of the cell-surface protein CD44 show organ-specific metastatic behaviour in addition to therapy resistance and increased capacity to initiate and sustain tumor growth, making these cells potential therapeutic targets. My research is focused on establishing the role of ALDH, CD44, and other related tumor cell-derived mechanisms underlying organ-specific metastatic preferences of breast cancer cells. 

 

Gabrielle Siegers

Gabrielle Siegers is a Postdoctoral Scholar working under the supervision of Dr. Lynne-Marie Postovit in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the Schulich School of Medicine, Western University. Gamma delta T cells (GDTc) are white blood cells that kill infected or cancerous cells and while higher GDTc counts typically correlate with better survival of cancer patients, some pro-tumor properties of GDTc found within tumors have been reported. An embryonic protein whose expression correlates with poor patient outcome, Nodal is produced by breast tumor cells and may play a role in changes that GDTc undergo when they reach the tumor site. Our study of Nodal and GDTc in the context of breast cancer will improve GDTc breast cancer therapies and deepen our understanding of Nodal’s role in breast tumor progression, thereby enhancing patient survival.

 

Michael Stewart

Michael Stewart is a PhD student in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, under the supervision of Dr. Dale W. Laird. His project focuses on three channel forming proteins: connexin43 and connexin26 allow the direct passage of small molecules between contacting cells, while pannexin1 allows molecules to move between the internal and external environment of cells. These proteins have been reported to act as tumor suppressors and/or proto-oncogenes in cancer onset but their role in the progression of the disease, particularly during the metastatic process, remains poorly understood. We are currently developing genetically-modified breast cancer mouse models with reduced or ablated expression of these large pore forming molecules, where both breast tumor onset and progression into metastatic disease can be assessed in a unifying system. Results from our studies may lead to the establishment of connexins and pannexins as potential therapeutic targets.

 

Camilla Urbaniak

Camilla Urbaniak is a PhD student in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, working under the supervision of Dr. Gregor Reid.  The bacteria that are naturally found in our bodies have been shown to play an important role in many diseases that have been on the rise in the last 20 years. We believe that the same holds true for breast cancer and that certain bacteria may promote cancer while others may prevent it. By identifying and isolating the bacteria found in cancerous and non-cancerous breast tissue and breast exudates, we will have a better understanding of the mechanisms by which bacteria can influence breast cancer.

 

 

Ran Wei

Ran Wei is a PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry, under the supervision of Dr. Shawn Li. 25% of breast cancer patients show abnormal degradation of tumor suppressor Numb protein, and this group patients have a higher probability of developing aggressive breast tumors. Moreover, the levels of oncogenic HER2 protein correlate negatively with Numb levels in HER2+ breast cancers. The aim of Ran’s project is to develop and optimize peptide inhibitors to prevent Numb degradation in HER2+ breast cancers.

 

Philip Wong

Philip Wong is a MSc student in the Department of Medical Biophysics, under the supervision of Dr. Jeffrey J.L. Carson. Dynamic contrast enhanced (DCE) MRI is the conventional method used to diagnose between benign and malignant breast tumours in high-risk patients. It involves the analysis of the time evolution of a signal from a contrast agent and is capable of providing insight into the blood flow dynamics and physiology of the tumour. The aim of this project is to examine the feasibility of a previously developed 3D photoacoustic imaging system for dynamic contrast methods, which carries high potential in optimizing the time, cost, safety, and efficiency of breast cancer examinations.

 

Ying Xia

Ying Xia is a Postdoctoral Scholar working under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan in the London Regional Cancer Program. She will work on the role of insoluble factors such as extracellular matrix (ECM) components in mediating the lung-specific metastatic behavior of breast cancer cells. This study will help us understand the interactions between cancer cells (the “seeds”) and the lung (the “soil”) in the body, determine if these cells show a particular preference for migration and growth in the lung; and help to identify specific molecular factors that contribute to this. By doing so, we hope to gain a greater understanding the mechanisms by which breast cancer spreads to and grows in the lung. This knowledge could provide new targets for treatment of metastatic breast cancer, which may lead to a reduction of breast cancer related deaths in Canada in the future.

 

 

 

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Last Updated September 25, 2012 | © 2007, LHSC, London Ontario Canada