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Meet a breast cancer scientist

Posted on September 29, 2015

The wear it pink team spoke to Laura Bella, a PhD student whose work is funded by Breast Cancer Now, about wear it pink and her work as a breast cancer scientist.

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Why do you get involved in wear it pink?

I work in Professor Eric Lam’s team at Imperial College London as a breast cancer scientist, alongside other researchers who are funded by Breast Cancer Now. We appreciate how important it is to raise awareness of the disease, as well as money for charities like Breast Cancer Now. We wanted to give something back to a charity that has given us so much. But most of all, we have fun! We dress in pink and organise huge cake sales. People from other department join us for a slice of cake and a chat. And also, we get an excuse to see Prof Lam show off his pink shirts.

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What have you got planned for wear it pink this year?

We’ll be wearing pink t-shirts, painting our nails pink, maybe even some pink make-up. We’d love to organise another cake sale, we have such a wide variety of backgrounds we usually end up with a range of cakes from all over the world. They may not always look pink, but they certainly hit the spot!

Tell us about what you’re working on in the lab.

We all work around a group of genes called the Forkhead Box genes (FOX). We’re looking at how breast tumours might exploit these FOX genes to help them grow, become resistant to treatments, and spread throughout the body. These are not inherently bad genes: we all have them in our cells, and they normally regulate each other so that they can protect us from cancer. But breast cancer cells have found a way to exploit them, to use them to their advantage. They can re-activate the FOX genes which make cells grow faster and turn off the FOX genes which would normally keep the cancer cells at bay. This way, the cells are free to grow, avoid death, move around the body, and even become resistant to chemotherapy. Unfortunately, FOX genes include more than one gene, and each one can contribute to its own realm of disarray. So in Prof Lam’s team we each study how one of these FOX genes works, how it affects breast cancer, and how we can shut it down without harming healthy cells. Our single strengths and expertise are then merged together, and we get the big picture.

How will your research help stop people dying from breast cancer?

FOX genes seem to be at the centre of crucial aspects of breast cancer, most of which are primary causes of breast cancer taking lives. For instance, they allow cancerous cells to become resistant to treatments, as well as spread throughout the body. By understanding how exactly they do that, we can find new ways to stop them, which could mean new drugs for breast cancer. They could also help doctors to predict how a patient will respond to chemotherapy, and how the breast cancer will progress.

What do you hope for people with breast cancer in the future?

We hope for a world where breast cancer will be part of history books, where wide-eyed children will read about how breast cancer used to take our best women away from us. There will be no more need for breast cancer researchers then, and I can assure you, we will all be happily unemployed, wearing pink and eating cakes.

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