Meet Mitch Dowsett, researcher

Interview with Mitch Dowsett, Head of Academic Department of Biochemistry, Professor of Biochemical Endocrinology Professor of Translational Research at the Breakthrough Research Centre, Royal Marsden Hospital, London.

How did you find out about the Komen Tissue Bank?

I first heard about the bank in a presentation made by Dr. George Sledge, I believe in his Brinker award lecture at San Antonio.

Why did it interest you?

It interested me for several reasons. I was surprised that somebody had been able to create such a bank given that it was something I had not even heard anybody discuss the possibility of let alone attempt. Most of my work is breast cancer tissue-based and the need for comparative normal tissue is one we have frequently had but been unable to satisfy with tissue from non-breast cancer subjects or those without some other condition that has necessitated their surgery. So I have both a general interest as well as the specific interest for the project we are currently pursuing with tissue from the bank. It was also very revealing, and not a little humbling, to recognize the volunteers’ extraordinary commitment to helping us tackle breast cancer.

What does the Komen Tissue Bank provide you that you weren’t able to get elsewhere?

The most important aspect for us is that we are able to get normal tissue from a large number of subjects. Just as we are different on the outside, we are different on the inside and in the details of our metabolism. We need to understand the way in which the perception of estrogen by normal breast tissue varies and for that purpose samples from just a few subjects is insufficient.

Tell us about the unique technology you are going to use to access the Komen Tissue Bank samples.

We are investigating the function of 3 new genes which are the closest in the genome to the estrogen receptor. We know that there are minor differences (polymorphisms, PMs) in these genes between individuals and that these affect breast cancer risk. We have also shown that these PMs affect the level of ER in breast cancers. We need to know if this is the case in normal breast tissue and that this may therefore explain the increase in risk.

What do you hope to discover in your research?

The functioning of the estrogen receptor is extremely important in breast cancer: about 80% of breast cancers express this receptor and it is through the receptor that the tumour receives much of its drive to grow. If the three genes mentioned above affect its expression these may provide a novel means of manipulating the receptor both for the purposes of treatment and possibly for the purposes of reducing risk in higher risk patients. But to understand if this is really a possibility we need to understand their biology in normal tissue much better first.



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