Support from the Strategic Priority Fund award will allow Dr. Connie Eaves, distinguished scientist, and her colleagues Drs Davide Pellicani and Martin Hirst to embark on their project, titled Identification of mechanisms of human breast cancer initiation from epigenomic changes caused by aging and introduced oncogenes.
Aging in normal women is associated with dramatic changes in the properties and behavior of their breast cells. Recent research has shown that this is accompanied by changes in the genes that these cells express. In addition, as women age, their risk of developing breast cancer also becomes very high - more than one in twenty are diagnosed. ). It is therefore possible that the changes in gene expression that occur in all women as they age may predispose their breast cells to the development of breast cancer before their acquisition of mutations that are known to cause breast cancer.
To test this possibility, this project will compare the mechanisms controlling gene expression in the breast cells of older and younger women and see if and how they may overlap with those seen in human breast cancer cells. Eaves anticipates the results will lead to new diagnostic indicators and novel therapeutic targets.
Other institutions associated with this team are UBC and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
“We know getting older increases the risk and that the biology is complex. Now we will be able to mount a team approach to use the new tools and methods we have developed to begin an exploration of this critical and uncharted area. The goal is to identify events that can reduce the risk or treatments that will target early changes,” says Dr. Eaves.