Two grants awarded in the fight against breast cancer

26 January 2016

Renée van Amerongen, MacGillavry fellow and assistant professor in the section of Molecular Cytology at the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences (SILS) was awarded €265k by the Dutch Cancer Society (KWF kankerbestrijding) in December 2015. Her proposal, submitted as part of the ‘Alpe d’HuZes Unieke kansen: Baanbrekende ideeën’ call, aims to develop and engineer novel experimental systems to track stem cells in the mammary gland. The work will be carried out by Anoeska van de Moosdijk, a PhD candidate. Then in January 2016, Katrin Wiese, a postdoc in Van Amerongen’s team was awarded a 2-year Marie Curie Individual Fellowship. Her proposal, ‘WntELECT’, is aimed at uncovering the molecular mechanisms that ultimately control stem cell activity in the mammary gland.

One out of every eight women will develop breast cancer during her life. Many subtypes of breast cancer exist, with different clinical outcomes and distinct opportunities for therapeutic intervention. A better understanding of the normal growth properties of the tissue, will help in dissecting what goes wrong during cancer development.

A link between stem cells and breast cancer

The mammary epithelium itself undergoes dynamic morphological changes under the influence of cycling hormone levels. This is most notable during puberty and pregnancy. However, it also occurs during each menstrual cycle, when additional side branches form and regress. Growth and maintenance of the mammary epithelium is possible due to the presence of stem cells, which have the capacity to both self-renew (i.e. to make an identical copy of themselves) and differentiate (i.e. to give rise to a specialised daughter cell). A disruption in this delicate balance can contribute to cancer formation. Van Amerongen and her team aim to improve existing methods to allow better and brighter visualisation of these stem cells in complex tissues. In addition, they seek to identify the molecular mechanisms that control the balance between self-renewal and differentiation. For this, the team closely collaborates with other researchers in the section of Molecular Cytology, including prof.dr. Dorus Gadella. In addition, they collaborate with scientists at the Netherlands Cancer Institute.

Published by  Swammerdam Institute