Breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer affecting thousands of women in Quebec. Over the past few decades, breast cancer mortality rates have continued to decline, due in part to better therapeutics and earlier detection. Indeed, detection methods for breast cancer have progressed such that early detection of premalignant foci is possible. It is now necessary for pathologists to diagnose breast disease based on limited material in small biopsies. One of the greatest challenges in breast cancer diagnosis is to reliably predict which lesions will become malignant. Achieving this would be a tremendous benefit to patients and the health care system, since patients would receive the treatment that they need and over-treatment would be minimized. Therefore, a deeper understanding of the fundamental biology underlying the transitions of normal breast epithelium to carcinoma is essential.
The primary goal of my research program is to understand the cellular and molecular events that regulate tissue morphogenesis in both normal and cancer contexts. Cell polarity is a fundamental property of normal epithelial cells and is disrupted in cancers. We are evaluating polarity proteins as novel biomarkers for breast cancer progression and understanding how they influence reorganization of epithelial tissue during cancer progression, whether it is reversible, and what contribution they have to therapeutic resistance and disease recurrence. We envision that understanding the mechanisms of breast cancer initiation and early progression will provide essential information that will ultimately help clinicians make diagnostic and prognostic decisions.