Breast Cancer Laboratory

Division Head
Division Head
18 members

About the lab

Our laboratory, jointly headed by Professor Geoff Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader, studies the molecular and cellular processes that underpin normal breast development and how things go awry that lead to breast cancer. We use this information to advance new prevention strategies and therapies for breast cancer.

Important contributions to breast cancer research include:

  • identifying breast stem and their ‘daughter’ progenitor cells, which give rise to normal breast tissue.
  • defining how normal breast growth is regulated, the role of female hormones, and how errors lead to breast cancer.
  • identifying the breast cells that are predisposed to becoming cancerous in women with a faulty BRCA1 gene.
  • discovering potential strategies to treat and prevent breast cancer.

An important focus of our laboratory is the transfer of discoveries to the clinic. Towards this end, we have generated valuable pre-clinical models to study novel treatments. These include ‘BH3 mimetics’, which target and switch off BCL2 proteins (which are responsible for keeping cancer cells alive). Several or our laboratory discoveries have entered clinical trials. To facilitate transfer of laboratory discoveries to the clinic we have established a Translational Centre for Breast Cancer Research (TransBCR).

Our mission

Our mission is to master breast cancer by understanding the genetic and cellular changes that lead to breast cancer.

In many ways breast cancer can be viewed as a caricature of normal development that has gone awry. Our vision is to apply innovative and cutting-edge technologies that deliver new insights into breast cancer, and apply these discoveries in bench-to-bedside research aimed at treating or even preventing breast cancer.

Our points of focus are:

  • research on individuals at high risk of developing breast cancer, including women with a ‘faulty’ BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene
  • deciphering the molecular regulation of the normal mammary differentiation hierarchy at the genetic, epigenetic and single cell levels
  • elucidating mechanisms underlying tumour initiation and progression, including insights into the ‘cells of origin’ of hereditary breast cancer
  • resolving breast cancer heterogeneity using cutting-edge technologies
  • using pre-clinical models to define improved therapies.


Our laboratory has made influential contributions to understanding mammary gland development and breast cancer. Methodologies developed by our group are used by the field worldwide.

Key discoveries include:

  • isolation of mouse mammary stem cells and demonstration that an epithelial organ can be generated from a single adult stem cell
  • identification of luminal progenitor cells
  • discovery that stem cells are exquisitely sensitive to ovarian hormones
  • identification of daughter cells as the cell of origin of cancer in BRCA1 mutation carriers
  • in vivo tracking of stem and progenitor cells in normal development and during cancer development using novel 3D imaging technology
  • identification of a novel population of macrophages in the mammary gland

Our lab’s work has paved the way for understanding mammary differentiation hierarchy, and the methodologies developed by our group are now used by the field worldwide. Our pre-clinical studies on chemoprevention strategies have led to global clinical trials.

Lab research projects

Lab team

Our team collaborates a number of laboratories at WEHI, including bioinformaticians (Smyth and Chen Laboratories), cancer biologists (Fu, Sutherland, Scot and Strasser Laboratories) and immunologists (Gray Laboratory).

We have established a Translational Research hub (TransBCR) with local and interstate partners, and have strong links to the clinic that include Parkville Breast Unit, Parkville Familial Cancer Centre, Parkville Cancer Clinical Trials Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Victorian Cancer Biobank, Breast Cancer Trials Australia and kConFab.

18 members
Research Officer
Amelia De Smet
Masters Student (by coursework)
Shirley Song
PhD Student
PhD Student
Research Officer
Dr Chrissy Muttiah
Clinical Research Fellow
Luxi Lal
TransBCR Project Manager
Research Officer
Research Officer
Amy Tsai
Research Assistant
Senior Research Officer
Elliot Surgenor
Research Assistant
Felicity Jackling
Laboratory Manager
Bianco Capaldo profile
Research Officer
Senior Research Officer
Interested in supporting our research?

Your support will help WEHI’s researchers make discoveries and find treatments to ensure healthier, longer lives for you and your loved ones.

Contact our friendly team to find out how you can help.