The role of microRNAs in fat-breast cancer cell crosstalk

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Status: In-progress
Year: 2018
Funded: $99,983
Grant Type: Major Project Grant

Obesity is associated with worse outcomes in patients with breast cancer. One reason for this is that breast cancer cells and fat cells interact at a local level, within the breast tumour. This crosstalk between breast cancer cells and the fat cells intensifies during obesity, and promotes breast cancer cell metastasis and resistance to anti-cancer therapies.

MicroRNAs are small regulatory molecules that help turn genes on and off in cancer cells. Within breast tumours, microRNAs target specific genes that, in turn, alter the breast cancer cell phenotype so they become more metastatic and resistant to anti-cancer therapies.

Our project aims to identify microRNAs associated with fat-breast cancer cell crosstalk and discover how they may promote breast cancer metastasis and resistance to anti-cancer therapies. We have exciting preliminary data indicating that breast cancer cells cultured alongside fat cells have altered microRNA expression profiles.

Using cutting edge molecular techniques, we will (1) identify the microRNAs involved, (2) discover their down-stream gene targets and (3) test whether altering microRNA levels can modulate breast cancer cell migration, invasion and response to anti-cancer therapies. This study has the potential to identify new targets for breast cancer therapy, particularly in obese patients.

Researcher // Dr Elisabeth Phillips – University of Otago

The main focus of Dr Phillips’ research is related to the field of cancer cell biology. Dr Phillips has mainly focused on breast cancer; investigating the mechanisms behind therapy resistance using proteomics and investigating the risk factor obesity and how it contributes to the progression of cancer.

More About Dr Elisabeth Phillips

What is breast cancer?

Breast Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal breast cells. Breast Cancer is not caused by a bacteria or a virus and is not contagious. Normally cells are created, grow and die in a controlled way. However, when abnormal changes occur in the genes which usually regulate this orderly process, normal gene function can be turned on or off. Damaged cells are then able to keep growing and dividing and a tumour is formed. A tumour in the breast can be benign (usually not life-threatening) or malignant (cancerous). Although a benign tumour may cause problems as it grows, it does not spread to other parts of the body. On the other hand, a malignant tumour does have the potential to grow and spread to form secondary tumours. When this happens, it’s called advance, metastatic or secondary breast cancer.

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3,300 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in New Zealand.
Women diagnosed daily in New Zealand, 1 will be Maori.
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Will be aged 50+ at time of diagnosis.
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Survival rate if cancer detected by regular mammogram.

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