Breast cancer research achievements recognised by national award

04 October 2016
Key Researchers
Professor Jane Visvader
Breast cancer researcher Professor Jane Visvader
The scientific achievements of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute breast cancer researcher Professor Jane Visvader have been recognised with the awarding of the 2016 Lemberg Medal.

The award, which was presented today at the ComBio national conference, is the highest honour of the Australian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).

Professor Visvader, who is joint division head of the Institute’s ACRF Stem Cells and Cancer division, has co-led the Institute’s breast cancer research program since its establishment in 1998.

The research achievements of Professor Visvader and her research team include:

  • isolation of the long-sought mammary stem cell;
  • elucidation of how the epithelial cells of the breast duct develop and the key molecular regulators of this process;
  • discovery that breast stem cells are highly responsive to steroid hormone signalling, thus explaining the long-established epidemiological link between hormone exposure and breast cancer;
  • identifying which breast cells are perturbed in women who carry the BRCA1 risk gene and identification of a novel prevention strategy;
  • developing an extensive bank of human breast cancer samples that are enabling pre-clinical testing of new therapeutic drug combinations for treating breast cancer.

Professor Visvader said she felt privileged to work with a team of amazing researchers over the past two decades. “I am especially indebted to my close collaborator and ‘partner in crime’, Geoff Lindeman,” she said. “Our partnership has enabled us to consider breast development and cancer biology at multiple levels.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of our studies has been deciphering the breast epithelial hierarchy and using it to understand how breast cancer initiates. We are now beginning to take fundamental discoveries from the bench to the clinic. Most importantly, I would like to acknowledge the research contributions of the many talented scientists in our laboratory, both past and present,” Professor Visvader said.

Professor Doug Hilton, director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and recipient of the 2012 Lemberg Medal, said Professor Visvader had driven a research program spanning from basic scientific research through to clinical translation. “Jane’s research has always embraced molecular and cell biology, and adroitly applied advanced technologies, with the underlying motivation of improving outcomes for people breast cancer,” he said. “It is fantastic to see the clinical impact of this research now being realised. She is a very deserving recipient of the Lemberg Medal.”

In addition to Professor Visvader and Professor Hilton, other Walter and Eliza Hall Institute faculty who have received the Lemberg Medal are Institute deputy director and cell death researcher Professor David Vaux (2008), structural biologist Dr Colin Ward (2007), Institute deputy director and malaria researcher Professor Alan Cowman (2006), former Institute director and cancer researcher Professor Suzanne Cory (1995), structural biologist Professor Peter Colman (1988, then working at CSIRO), and cancer researcher Professor Jerry Adams (1986).

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