Breast cancer is characterized by both over growth and loss of tissue organization. In normal mammary glands, cells that form ducts have a distinct top-bottom geometry, or polarity. The disruption of proteins that regulate polarity is frequently observed in human breast cancers, but how they contribute to normal development and breast cancer is not understood.
The primary objective of my research program is to understand how polarity proteins regulate normal mammary gland development, and how disruption of polarity contributes to the progression of breast cancer. We have developed novel techniques to manipulate the expression of specific genes in mice and in three-dimensional organ-like cultures to understand their functions. Using these systems, we are able to investigate how the mammary gland develops, and the mechanisms of tumor initiation, growth, and invasion at the cellular and molecular levels.
Because cell polarity and tissue structure is frequently disrupted in advanced tumors, an in depth understanding of how polarity is regulated during normal development and tumor progression will be crucial for the identification of novel therapeutic strategies for breast cancer.