Philanthropic gift casts rosy outlook for graduate student breast cancer researchers

Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta (CRINA) names three recipients of La Vie en Rose Scholarships in Breast Cancer Research.

Kirsten Bauer - 22 January 2019

Graduate students Daniel Krys, Francisca Cristi Munoz and Zelei Yang will receive a partial stipend of $10,000 for one year from the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta (CRINA), thanks to the Roses of Hope Foundation, a charitable organization backed by La Vie En Rose and its clients in support of women's health.

Over the past six years, the Montreal-based Canadian lingerie and sleepwear company has donated more than $800,000 to Canadian breast cancer research, including the University of Alberta's CRINA, allowing for the creation of three La Vie en Rose graduate scholarships in Breast Cancer Research.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. These winning student projects will make strides toward improving the lives of those affected by the disease through a better understanding of diagnosis and treatment.

About the Projects

Daniel Krys

Project: Positron Emission Tomography (PET) based diagnosis and treatment monitoring of breast cancer

Supervisor: Frank Wuest, oncology, Dianne and Irving Kipnes Chair in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences, Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Senior Scholar, CRINA and Women and Children's Health Research Institute (WCHRI) member

Using breast cancer cells in mouse models, the project involves the application of Positron Emission Tomography (PET), a molecular imaging technology which uses radioactive tracers to detect molecular doors in breast cancer cells, which are the means of delivering vital nutrients and other building blocks to sustain tumour growth and metastasis. Detection of these molecular doors will help to diagnose breast cancer at early stages and provide novel delivery methods for anticancer drugs.

Francisca Cristi Munoz

Project: Creating reovirus variants with improved oncolytic potency

Supervisors: Maya Shmulevitz, medical microbiology and immunology, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Virology and Oncotherapy, CRINA, WCHRI and Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology member

Mary Hitt, oncology, CRINA, WCHRI and Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology member

Reovirus is a naturally occurring virus in the human digestive system that is not known to generate disease, but has been proven to infect and kill cancer cells preferentially over normal cells. The virus has shown promise in clinical trials in breast cancer, however certain mutated strains appear to be better at killing breast cancer cells than others. The first phase of this project aims to understand and document why these strains are more effective at targeting cancer cells, in order to develop stronger cancer-targeting strains.

The naturally occurring reovirus also possesses immunity-boosting properties. A second phase of the project will investigate if the combined mutant reoviruses can stimulate stronger anti-cancer immunity compared to the natural reovirus.

Zelei Yang

Project: Role of cytomegalovirus infection in breast cancer progression

Supervisors: David Brindley, biochemistry, CRINA co-director and WCHRI member

Denise Hemmings, obstetrics and gynecology, CRINA, WCHRI and Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology member

Inflammation, sometimes caused by viral infection, is known to drive tumour growth and spread of breast cancers. Between 40 and 70 per cent of all women are infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV), a common herpesvirus. This jumps to 95 per cent in breast cancer patients,, however little is known about the consequences of CMV infection in them. This project seeks to understand if CMV infection could alter the balance of inflammation in the host, therefore promoting breast cancer progression.

Early results indicate that CMV infection does increase inflammation, but does

not appear to affect the growth of breast tumours. However, it appears to produce larger secondary tumours that can spread to other parts of the body, particularly the lungs. Investigating why this occurs may suggest that treating or preventing CMV infections could decrease the spread of breast tumours, and consequent rate of mortality for breast cancer patients.