Tracking The Deadly Spread Of Breast Cancer


Published: 16Apr2002

Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative
Initiative canadienne pour la recherche sur le cancer du sein

a component of the Canadian Breast Cancer Initiative / une composante de l'initiative canadienne sur le cancer du sein

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Montreal investigator awarded $450,000 to study cell signals and their role in breast cancer metastasis

Breast cancer cells are notorious for breaking the rules. They can multiply, evade captors and even travel to distant sites of the body to create a new cancer site (metastasis). A research team at the McGill University Health Centre Research Institute is learning how these errant cells break free from a tumour and invade other tissue — knowledge that is key to future treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

The research team leader, Dr. Morag Park, will receive $450,000 over the next three years from the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative to complete her study Signals regulating epithelial mesenchymal transition and dispersal in breast cancer.

"Normal functioning of the body requires that all cells accomplish their function according to a precise and detailed plan," says Dr. Park. "When these normal growth plans are altered, this results in an imbalance of signals that promote growth, suppress cell death and enhance the invasive capacity of cells." The ability of cells to invade and travel to other parts of the body makes treatment for metastatic breast cancer a serious challenge.

Intense research in the last twenty years has uncovered a number of clues to cell behaviour — how a cell is instructed to grow, self-destruct (or in the case of cancer cells, to malfunction). Building on this knowledge, Dr. Park and her team identified an important regulator for cell invasion, the Met receptor. In normal cells, the Met receptor relays signals from the cell surface to promote the normal organization of tissue. When these pathways are altered in breast cancer cells, the Met receptor now acts to enhance cell invasion — the first step of metastasis.

"Our goal is to identify how molecular signals control normal tissue organization versus cell invasion," says Dr. Park. "We also intend to study how these signals cooperate with other pathways altered in breast cancer cells to promote cell invasion."

"A full understanding of the signals that lead to invasive growth is crucial, because it is the invasive growth that threatens a woman's life. This research could lead to new treatments for metastatic breast cancer," adds Dr. Marilyn Schneider, executive director of the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative. "The CBCRI partnership is proud to fund this study, and looks forward to results from Dr. Park and her team."

Established in 1993, the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative is Canada's primary funder of breast cancer research. To date, CBCRI has contributed $80.5 million to support 277 research grants. As a unique partnership of groups from the public, private and non-profit sectors, CBCRI is committed to reducing the incidence of breast cancer, increasing survival, and enhancing the lives of those affected by the disease. CBCRI partners include the Avon Flame Foundation, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Health Canada and the National Cancer Institute of Canada.

Contact Information

Daphne Wood
Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative
dwood [at]
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