Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Cold Spring Harbor, New York
Cancer Center Member
Leveraging pregnancy-associated changes in breast tissue to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.
A full-term pregnancy in women younger than age 25 is correlated with an approximately 30 percent decrease in the incidence of breast cancer. Pregnancy-associated protection from breast cancer persists for a lifetime, implying a permanent shift in the cells that comprise the mammary gland. Dr. dos Santos’ earlier work showed that pregnancy-induced molecular changes acquired by mammary epithelial cells enhance immune communication and inhibit mammary tumorigenesis. Dr. dos Santos is now exploring the possibility of blocking mammary oncogenesis by manipulating the mammary immune microenvironment in a pregnancy-like manner. Ultimately, this work could inform development of therapeutic strategies to prevent breast tumors independently of pregnancy.
Dr. dos Santos has found that the post-pregnancy mammary tissue has increased numbers of specific subtypes of immune cells called natural killer T (NKT) cells. Probiotics have an established role of stimulating NKT immunity. Dr. dos Santos will test whether milk-associated probiotics control the infiltration and activation of mammary NKT cells, and in turn, suppress tumorigenesis. In addition to their cytotoxic properties, NKT cells influence the activation state and functional properties of multiple other cell types in the immune system, including B cells that make specialized antibodies. These antibodies provide a source of local vaccination that influences mammary tumor development. Dr. dos Santos will test naturally occurring vaccination strategies identified in models of pregnancy-induced breast cancer protection, which could provide the rationale for developing this breast cancer prevention strategy.
Camila dos Santos, PhD is an Associate Professor and Member of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center. She earned her doctorate in molecular and cell biology from Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas, Brazil. Dr. dos Santos then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. Gregory Hannon’s group at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to study normal and cancerous breast stem cells. Dr. dos Santos serves as the Faculty Head, Organoid Shared Resource and as the Deputy Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center. Her laboratory focuses on investigating the molecular and cellular alterations induced by pregnancy that influence breast tumor growth. For her research in normal breast development and breast cancer, she has been granted a series of prestigious awards, including the Rita Allen Foundation Award (2016), the V-Foundation for Cancer Research Award (2016), the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Award (2018), the AACR-Breast Cancer Research Foundation Young Investigator Award (2018), and the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Faculty Award (2021).
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