Press and Public Relations

Joint International Journal of Cancer and Klaus Tschira Stiftung Lecture at DKFZ

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - Prof. Jane Visvader

Jane Visvader is Joint Head of the Division of Stem Cells and Cancer and the Breast Cancer Laboratory at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. She carried out PhD studies in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Adelaide, and subsequently held positions as a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute, San Diego, and as a Research Associate/Instructor at the Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Boston. Here her work focused on identifying transcription factors important for determining cell-fate in the hematopoietic system. In 1998, she made a transition to mammary gland development and breast cancer, with her appointment as a Group Leader to the Victorian Breast Cancer Research Consortium, based at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. She is the recipient of an Australia Fellowship and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2012. Visvader serves on the editorial boards for Cell Stem Cell, Cancer Cell, Breast Cancer Research and Molecular Oncology and was Senior Editor for Cancer Research for 6 years (2007-12).

Important contributions that her group has made to the mammary gland field include the prospective isolation of mouse mammary stem cells; the elucidation of distinct luminal progenitor subtypes; the definition of ‘master’ transcriptional regulators of lineage commitment and maturation along the epithelial hierarchy; the discovery that mammary stem cells are exquisitely sensitive to steroid hormones despite lacking expression of their receptors; and the tracking of mammary bipotent stem cells and unipotent progenitors in situ using a high resolution 3D imaging approach combined with lineage tracing.

Her group has extended their discoveries in the mouse to human breast tissue and proved the existence of breast stem cells in repopulation assays as well as shown that these stem cells, like their mouse counterparts, exhibit a ‘triple negative’ phenotype reminiscent of the aggressive basal subtype of breast cancer. Through the analysis of precancerous human tissue, luminal progenitors were revealed to be the likely transformation target in women that carry a BRCA1 mutation. This work has now formed the basis for exploring inhibition of RANK signaling as a possible breast cancer prevention strategy for BRCA1 mutation carriers in collaboration with Amgen. Over the past several years, the breast cancer laboratory has developed an extensive bank of patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models representing the various subtypes of breast cancer and demonstrated that they behave as powerful ‘proof-of-principle’ pre-clinical models. These findings have led to an ongoing collaboration with Abbvie and Genentech, to progress BCL-2 inhibitors to the clinic for breast cancer.


Prof. Jane Visvader interviewed by Dr. Stefanie Seltmann

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