Cancer as a disease can be regarded as having three broad stages:
- Uncontrolled growth of primary tumour
- Invasion into adjacent tissues
- Metastasis, in which tumour cells escape from the primary site and re-establish growth at distant, secondary locations
In breast cancer, as with other cancers of epithelial origin, it is well recognised that these proliferative, invasive and metastatic events do not result solely from rogue cancer cells acquiring additional capabilities and behaving abnormally within 'normal' surroundings.
Rather, all three stages rely on the ability of the tumour cells to recruit and activate neighbouring non-tumour (stromal) cells and, additionally, to respond to the signals that these activated stromal cells produce. Further, there is now increasing evidence that these activated stromal cells can modulate the response of tumour cells to both targeted therapies and cytotoxic chemotherapy.
Consequently, in our laboratory, a focus is placed on tumour cells in the context of their cellular and non-cellular environments, particularly the metastatic microenvironment. Our goal is to identify pathways and processes that can be targeted for the prevention or suppression of secondary disease or which are responsible for treatment-resistant tumour progression.