The first research scholarship the event funded was undertaken at University of Melbourne by Dr Elgene Lim. Some information on the research project is as follows.
My Phd research into breast cancer was funded by the White scholarship, named in memory of Catherine White, and administered through the National Breast Cancer Foundation. It provided me with the opportunity to leave clinical practice as a medical oncologist and to focus my efforts into studying the underlying mechanisms in breast cancer.
Through studying normal and breast cancer tissue kindly donated by women who have had surgery, I have characterised distinct stages in human breast development, identifying a stem cell enriched subpopulation, as well as other cell types further down the cell hierarchy. Importantly, an aberrant cell subpopulation has been identified as a probable target for breast cancer development in women carrying the BRCA1 mutant gene, the most common hereditary cause of breast cancer. These women have a 65% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and up to now, the precise mechanisms for cancer development is not well understood. This cellular hierarchy was also used to established links with the different subtypes of breast cancer, providing a framework for better understanding the cellular origins of these cancers. These findings have been published in the major scientific journal Nature Medicine in August 2009 and presented at international cancer conferences in the Australia and USA.
These findings will enable the study of genes that control breast development and how these genes become faulty in breast cancer. This could lead to the design of new drugs to counter the effects of these genes in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer as well as better techniques for breast reconstruction after surgery. As abnormal cell development is an important feature in many cancers, it is possible that these treatments may be effective across a range of cancers.
Having completed my Phd, I will now be heading to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard University in Boston as the Fullbright Victoria scholar to further my research into identifying new therapeutic targets in subtypes of breast cancer that are resistant to conventional treatments.
Dr Elgene Lim, MBBS, FRACP, PhDPhD Research Title
The elucidation of the human mammary epithelial cell hierarchy in BRCA1 mutation carriers and non-carriers, and its relation to breast cancer.Institution
The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, University of MelbourneDuration
1st Feb 2006 – 31st Aug 2009