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Professor Clare Isacke wins prestigious award for women in science

Professor Clare Isacke in the ICR lab

Image: Professor Clare Isacke.

Professor Clare Isacke has been awarded the biennial Women in Science Achievement Award by the Metastasis Research Society (MRS). Professor Isacke is Professor of Molecular Cell Biology in the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, where she is also Dean of Academic and Research Affairs.

The MRS Board bestows several awards and honours to recognise excellence in the field of metastasis. In 2020, it established the Women in Science Achievement Award to acknowledge “exceptional female scientists at any stage of their careers”. Every other year, it selects a recipient who has made an “exceptional demonstrable contribution to scientific discovery in the field of metastasis research”.

Professor Isacke’s award recognises her work on understanding how tumour cells recruit non-cancerous cells during metastasis – the spread of cancer around the body. Although not all cancers will metastasize, those that do have higher rates of morbidity and mortality. However, the process of metastasis is complex and not yet fully understood at the molecular level.

Groundbreaking work

Professor Isacke is working towards targeting aspects of the metastatic process to prevent the development of advanced disease or treatment resistance. Her team collaborates closely with colleagues in the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre and the Division of Breast Cancer Research at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), as well as in The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

Professor Isacke has contributed to many important discoveries in the field of breast cancer, including several in the past couple of years. In 2022, her team led a pilot study demonstrating that it is possible to use a single test – a spinal fluid analysis – to diagnose breast cancer that has spread to the brain and spinal cord. This could help patients get a definitive diagnosis at an earlier stage when the disease is easier to treat. Professor Isacke’s most recent research built on this work to show for the first time that metastasis cells in this area of the body spread early from the primary breast tumour and acquire features usually associated with lobular breast cancer.

Earlier this year, among other discoveries, Professor Isacke and her team found out how breast cancer cells that have spread to secondary sites can reactivate many years later to form incurable advanced disease. They also demonstrated that removing a single protein from the cells surrounding tumours can make immunotherapy more effective, even for tumours in which it did not previously work at all. Both of these findings could, in the future, help clinicians treat patients more effectively.

In addition to her work in the lab, Professor Isacke’s role on the ICR’s leadership team means that she is responsible for working with the Academic Board on the planning, implementation and evaluation of the institute’s education strategies and outcomes.

Expertise, passion and dedication

Professor Clare Isacke said: “I feel deeply honoured to win the MRS Women in Science Achievement Award and am extremely grateful to all the talented people I work with in my team and elsewhere at the ICR, and to Breast Cancer Now, who have funded much of my research.

“Women are still under-represented in research, and I hope that awards such as this help inspire more women to pursue a career in science. It is so exciting to be part of a team taking huge strides forward in the understanding of advanced breast cancer, and I am delighted for this award recognising our work.”

Professor Andrew Tutt, Head of the Division of Breast Cancer Research and Director of the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at the ICR, said:

“We are so thrilled to see Clare being recognised for her important contribution to breast cancer research. Her work has unveiled molecular pathways and processes important in breast cancer metastasis that we hope to exploit to improve quality of life and outcomes for thousands of people with breast cancer. Her expertise, passion and dedication have made her an indispensable asset to the ICR, and we are really proud of her.”

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, Head of Research Communications at Breast Cancer Now, said:

“We are hugely proud that Professor Isacke, a leading researcher at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Centre, has been honoured with this prestigious award. Her innovative discoveries and internationally recognised research are paving the way for improved treatments for secondary (metastatic) breast cancer and helping us to understand how breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body and becomes incurable. Professor Isacke has made a remarkable contribution to breast cancer research over the last 20 years, and we are absolutely delighted that her achievements have been recognised by the Metastasis Research Society. With an estimated 61,000 people living with incurable secondary breast cancer in the UK, we need researchers like Professor Isacke to help us stop this devastating disease in its tracks.”

Furthering global understanding

The MRS is an international professional society dedicated to promoting research into all areas of cancer metastasis. It aims to educate the public about metastatic cancer and support the global exchange of information between researchers, clinicians, industry and patients.

To that end, alongside speakers from institutes around the world and the other 2024 MRS prize winners, Professor Isacke will deliver a lecture at the 20th Biennial Congress of the MRS. This event will take place at the Francis Crick Institute, London, on 23–26 June 2024.


Clare Isacke breast cancer Breast Cancer Now award women in science secondary breast cancer metastasis advanced cancer
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