Close up of researcher working with samples in a lab

Research projects

Blocking bio-parcels to stop breast cancer spreading

Dr Elena De Vita
Project period
March 2022 - February 2025
Research Institute
Imperial College London
Cancer types
Breast cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Dr Elena De Vita and her team within Professor Edward Tate’s research group are studying how breast cancer spreads to other organs. They hope that blocking a protein involved in messaging between cells could prevent this happening and potentially be an effective new treatment for patients.

Hope for the future

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the world. In 2020, almost 685,000 women worldwide died of breast cancer. A lot of progress has been made in treating breast cancer if caught early, however it is much harder to treat once it has spread to other organs.

Breast tumours are able to send signals to other organs around the body, making it easy for new tumours to develop there. Dr Elena De Vita and her team are studying how blocking these signals could stop breast cancer spreading with the hope of being able to develop new treatment options.


Meet the scientist

Dr Elena De Vita is motivated by science in all its forms, from designing experiments that try and solve a new question, to coming up with solutions to problems. Most of all, she enjoys the conversations about her work that she has with her research colleagues. Outside of the lab, Dr De Vita loves singing pop and jazz music, with a particular inclination for Regina Spektor, and is learning Japanese in her free time.

The science

Breast tumours can communicate with other organs around the body and make them more receptive to hosting new tumours as the cancer spreads. They do this by sending tiny parcels of genetic information, proteins and fats, called exosomes, which can travel between cells. The exosomes sent by breast tumours make things easier for cancer cells to seed a new tumour by altering the immune response in the target organ.

Professor Tate and his team recently found that mice lacking a protein called Rab27 were less likely to have breast cancer spread to other organs. For the first time, Professor Tate and his team found a way to block Rab27 with drugs and believe this has potential as a new treatment to stop breast cancer spreading.

Dr De Vita now aims to develop these new drugs further, and will test how well they can target Rab27 and block it in cells in the lab. The team hope this will reveal important new insights into the role of Rab27 in the spread of breast cancer, and lay the groundwork for future trials blocking Rab27.

In order to make substantial advancements in medical research, we need to deepen our understanding of the biological processes that are at the basis of health and disease. Proving that we can control these processes using new chemical compounds is essential to the development of potential new drugs.
Dr Elena De Vita

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