Biography and research overview
Dr Howard’s group investigates how the breast initially forms and how different types of immature breast cells and embryonic factors have an impact on the behaviour of breast cancer cells. Embryonic breast epithelial cells are a unique cell population comprised of undifferentiated and highly plastic progenitor cells that ultimately give rise to all other postnatal breast epithelial cells. Dr Howard investigates the cell communications between epithelial and stromal cells that form during embryonic breast development. Signalling between these cell populations promotes mammary differentiation and contributes both to postnatal breast development and to the development of breast cancer.
The current focus of this research programme is to understand the interactions between mammary cells and their microenvironments, and how these interactions play a role both in the formation and differentiation of immature breast cells and in the development of breast cancers. The overall goal is to identify distinct roles for embryonic factors in tumour initiation and progression. This may allow markers to be selected that can classify breast cancers in new ways and open new possibilities for treatment of tumours that display embryonic features.