Visualising breast cancer evolution

Visualising breast cancer evolution

Illuminate newsletter index page, June 2019
June 2019

Professor Geoff Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader
(L-R) Professor Geoff Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader
lead breast cancer research at the Institute.

A new imaging technique has been developed to visualise how cancer cells evolve within tumours, potentially revealing how breast cancers evade treatment.

Using a laboratory model of breast cancer, Institute researchers were able to view tumours in three dimensions, at a high resolution that was previously unachievable.

“We expect there will be many other applications for our new imaging method...”

The research revealed that pre-cancerous cells in the mammary glands only rarely develop into cancer cells, but once a cancer forms the cancer cells appeared highly ‘changeable’.

“We suspect that this feature – where a cell is able to morph from one type to another at the molecular level – could enhance its ability to grow and spread, as well as to evade certain therapies,” study co-lead Professor Jane Visvader said.

Collaboration key to study success

Rios, Visvader et al, Cancer Cell

Image shows stunning three-dimensional structures
of breast tissue. Credit: Rios, Visvader et al, Cancer Cell.

The study was led by Dr Anne Rios – who now works at the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in the Netherlands – with Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman at the Institute.

Close collaboration was required with the Institute’s Centre for Dynamic Imaging and Bioinformatics division who facilitated the new three-dimensional imaging technique that was critical for the discoveries.

“We expect there will be many other applications for our new imaging method, to study normal and cancerous tissue samples,” Dr Rios said.

Super Content: 
Animation still

This animation from WEHI.TV visualises research published in Nature Medicine in 2009 by Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman.

Video 1:06 

Four researchers smiling at camera

A cutting-edge technique called cellular barcoding has been used to tag, track and pinpoint cells responsible for the spread of breast cancer from the main tumour into the blood and other organs.