Harnessing the power of healthy breast cells to keep cancer at bay

Professor Johanna Ivaska
Project period
Apr 2023 - Mar 2026
Research Institute
University of Turku
Cancer types
Breast cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Professor Johanna Ivaska and her team are studying how healthy breast cells could hold the ability to prevent the spread of cancer cells. By studying the potential of a specific molecule, they hope to open up new paths for treatments for metastatic breast cancer.

Hope for the future

Most breast cancer deaths are caused by ‘metastasis’, which is when cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. Many cancer treatments are effective against the original breast tumour, but fail to make an impact on the spread of the disease. This means understanding how breast cancer first spreads will be a crucial step in finding new, effective treatments.

Professor Ivaska and her team recently identified a molecule, released by normal breast tissue, that can limit the spread of cancer cells. The researchers believe that it could be helpful in finding new options for patients. In this project, they will study the underpinnings of that molecule and screen for drugs that could be used to fight the spread of breast cancer.

Meet the scientist

Professor Ivaska describes herself is curious by nature - she enjoyed natural sciences in school and it's probably why she decided to study biochemistry at university. She became interested in the causes of human illnesses, and was drawn to cancer research. Outside of the lab, she loves boating in the beautiful Turku archipelago in Finland and hiking in the far north.

The science

Breast cancer is much more difficult to treat once it has spread, and currently there is no cure once this happens. Much of the research to understand this process has focused on what cancer cells do to make this more likely, but Professor Ivaska and her colleagues instead want to study how healthy breast tissue can counteract the spread of cancer. They recently discovered that a molecule, which is secreted by cells in the mammary glands, could work as a potent anti-invasive agent.

This molecule, called ‘insulin-like growth factor binding protein 2’, or IGFBP2 for short, can block the spread of some breast cancer cells. Professor Ivaska now hopes to uncover a change in how that molecule is used in cancer cells that might stop its ability to block their spread. She will test for drugs that could harness the potential of IGFBP2. Ultimately, the researchers hope to open up new avenues for drug development to treat breast cancer metastasis.

We are deeply grateful to all the Curestarters who have generously supported Worldwide Cancer Research. Without your donations, our important research into breast cancer would not be possible. Thank you for helping us make a stand against such a devastating disease.
Professor Johanna Ivaska

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