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The role of the breast microenvironment in suppressing early cancer invasion

Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, University of Melbourne

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Assoc Prof B Parker , Dr Damien Zanker Applications accepted all year round

About the Project

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a pre-invasive stage of breast cancer, whereby the tumour cells remain restrained by myoepithelial cells that surround breast ducts. Predicting which cases of DCIS will later develop invasive cancer is difficult, meaning that the majority of patients have treatment that may not benefit them. The aim of this project is to assess changes to the myoepithelial cells and the surrounding immune cells that are associated with disease recurrence, with the ultimate objective of identifying prognostic biomarkers that will enable individualised treatment options for patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

Our laboratory has developed a 3D model that mimics the earliest stages of tumour cell invasion beyond the myoepithelial layer. Using this model and high throughput screening, we have identified candidate tumour suppressors in myoepithelial cells and now want to confirm their functional role. This project will combine use of this model with a large cohort of patient DCIS tissues to identify myoepithelial and immune markers/cells that have important roles early invasion and could serve as candidate biomarkers of risk of invasive relapse after DCIS diagnosis. Techniques for this project include 3D cell culture, live cell imaging, confocal microscopy/immunofluorescence, RNA extraction and analysis, western blotting, gene editing, multiplex flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, immune activation assays, and in vitro cell proliferation and apoptosis assays.
This project will be based in the Parker research group:

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne Australia’s only public hospital solely dedicated to cancer, and home to the largest cancer research group in Australia. Cancer is a complex set of diseases, and modern cancer research institutes such as Peter Mac conduct research covering a diversity of topics that range from laboratory-based studies into the fundamental mechanisms of cell growth, translational studies that seek more accurate cancer diagnosis, clinical trials with novel treatments, and research aimed to improve supportive care.

All students engaged in postgraduate studies at Peter Mac are enrolled in the Comprehensive Cancer PhD (CCPhD) program, regardless of which university they are enrolled through. The program is managed by the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology (The University of Melbourne), based at Peter Mac.

The Comprehensive Cancer PhD program builds on established conventional training for cancer research students providing a coordinated program of skills, research and career training in addition to usual PhD activities. The program is designed to complement existing PhD activities and provides opportunities to develop professional skills that will help candidates to fulfil their career ambitions.

Funding Notes

All PhD students at Peter Mac must have a scholarship from The University of Melbourne or through another government, trust or philanthropic organisation. Before applying for a scholarship, you must have agreed on a project with an institute supervisor.

For further information about the university application process, see:

For further information regarding scholarships (both local and international), see:
Closing dates for applications for scholarships to commence in 2020: Round 1 -31 October 2019; Round 2 - 31 Jan 2020; Round 3 - 15 May 2020.
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