Cancer-Initiating Mechanisms in Aging Breast Epithelial Stem and Progenitor Cells

Dr. Kannan's lab is studying cancer-initiating mechanisms in aging breast epithelial stem cells and progenitor cells.

It has been known for decades that aging makes a woman increasingly susceptible to breast cancer. Yet the exact mechanism driving the increased susceptibility is unknown. Given the increasing number of older women anticipated in the next decade, the burden of supporting breast cancer treatments will rise to unprecedented levels.

This research project in the Stem Cell and Cancer Biology Lab is pursuing the overarching goal of developing preventive treatments targeting early stage breast cancer through insights into the normal process of mammary cell aging and identifying age-related changes that predispose the development of breast cancer.

Dr. Kannan has collaborated with Mayo Clinic breast surgeons and researchers to create a live breast organoid biobank to facilitate this project.

Stem cells and progenitor cells of epithelial origin have been successfully isolated from healthy tissue. Scientists lack a detailed understanding of their molecular states, transitions, properties, latent differentiation potential, and intrinsic or extrinsic regulators of their transcriptional networks and how these change with age.

In this project, Dr. Kannan hopes to pinpoint specific age-alterations that create high-risk normal cells as a first step toward creating new methods for their detection before overt cancer develops and for their elimination by new targeting approaches.