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CSHL breast cancer researcher Mikala Egeblad wins DoD Era of Hope Scholar Award

photo of Mikala Egeblad
Mikala Egeblad
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A multi-year, $2.5 million Department of Defense grant to advance cutting-edge breast cancer research

Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Associate Professor Mikala Egeblad, Ph.D., a cancer researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), has won an Era of Hope Scholar Award from the United States Department of Defense (DoD) Breast Cancer Research Program.

This prestigious award supports early-career scientists who have demonstrated extraordinary creativity, vision, and leadership potential within the field of breast cancer research. Dr. Egeblad is one of only two recipients of the award this year, and she will receive $2.5 million for her research over the next five years.

“Congratulations to Dr. Egeblad on this important award, which recognizes the excellence of her research program on breast cancer,” said CSHL President and CEO Dr. Bruce Stillman. “The award provides significant support for Dr. Egeblad’s research and will allow her to continue to innovate.”

As recently reported in the journal Nature, Dr. Egeblad’s group is at the forefront of efforts to use microscopy to view living tumors. Called “intravital” imaging, this approach enables scientists to view how tumors develop, how they move through tissues and spread to other parts of the body, and also, importantly, how they respond to treatments. (This is more fully explained in Nature—Imaging: Cancer caught in the act).

Dr. Egeblad’s DoD Breast Cancer grant will support her team’s effort to explain how a patient’s inflammatory cells can help their cancer grow. This is shown in the accompanying images, obtained by microscopy of a living mouse breast cancer.  In the panel at left, a mass of tumor cells have responded to chemotherapy, and all the red cells are dead.  However, a small patch of surviving tumor cells are seen in blue in the upper right corner. The first sign of a response by inflammatory cells is an area of green at the lower right.  In the middle panel, these green immune cells (called inflammatory monocytes) have greatly increased in number, and in the panel at right, they have overrun most of the tumor and are preparing to engulf and digest the dead cells. Dr. Egeblad’s team has shown that the presence of these inflammatory cells actually helps the living portion of the tumor to rebound for another round of growth. ”If we block this infiltration by the inflammatory cells, it takes the tumor longer to bounce back. That’s what our grant from DoD is about: What are the signals from these cells that help the tumor regrow? And what can we do to safely block or interrupt them, to make existing breast cancer drugs more effective?”

“The approach allows us to follow tumor cells—in real time—as they multiply and move through the body,” Dr. Egeblad says. “We use the technology to study how the tissue surrounding the tumor cells—the tumor microenvironment—contributes to cancer. Communications between tumor cells and normal cells can greatly alter how tumors grow, respond to therapy, and whether they spread to other parts of the body. Inflammatory immune cells normally protect against microbial pathogens but in breast cancer, they unfortunately help tumor cells survive treatment or spread.”

Dr. Egeblad’s team studies how signals between different types of inflammatory cells and tumor cells can be targeted to improve response to chemotherapy and to prevent metastatic spread.

In the project funded by the Era of Hope Scholar Award, Dr. Egeblad will lead a team that utilizes microscopic imaging with cutting-edge genetic technologies developed at CSHL that can show how genes are altered in individual, drug-resistant tumor cells. The goal is to identify the signals from inflammatory cells that make tumor cells resistant to drugs. Finding a way to block or inhibit such signals could improve the response to existing breast cancer drugs, and in particular make treatments of late-stage breast cancer much more effective than they are today.

More about Dr. Egeblad’s research: Cancer Discovery—Q&A: Mikala Egeblad on Tumor Microenvironment

Written by: Peter Tarr, Senior Science Writer | | 516-367-8455

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About the DOD Era of Hope Scholar Award

The Era of Hope Scholar Award supports individuals who are early in their careers and have demonstrated significant potential for innovation in breast cancer research. These individuals are exceptionally talented scientists who have shown that they are the “best and brightest” in their field(s) through extraordinary creativity, vision, and productivity. They have demonstrated experience in forming effective partnerships and collaborations and exhibit strong potential for leadership in the breast cancer research community. Since the intent of the Era of Hope Scholar Award is to recognize creative and innovative individuals rather than projects, the central feature of the award is the innovative contribution that the Principal Investigator (PI) can make toward ending breast cancer. The PI should articulate a vision that challenges current dogma and demonstrates an ability to look beyond tradition and convention.

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. Home to eight Nobel Prize winners, the private, not-for-profit Laboratory employs 1,000 people including 600 scientists, students and technicians. The Meetings & Courses Program annually hosts more than 12,000 scientists. The Laboratory’s education arm also includes an academic publishing house, a graduate school and the DNA Learning Center with programs for middle, high school, and undergraduate students and teachers. For more information, visit