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Eva Y.-H. P. Lee, PhD
Developmental and Cell Biology and Biological Chemistry
University of California
Goal: To understand how non-cancer cells contribute to the development and progression of BRCA breast cancers.
Impact: Dr. Lee is exploring how mammary epithelial cells and the mammary gland microenvironment are altered in the breast tissue of BRCA1 carriers. If changes in the cellular components of breast can be detected and diagnosed early—before breast epithelial cells become malignant—it could improve cancer risk management, especially in high-risk women.
What’s next: Dr. Lee and her team will conduct laboratory studies to identify factors that promote the proliferation of mammary epithelial cells taken from BRCA1 carriers.
The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most commonly mutated genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk. Unfortunately, the only preventive strategy available to women with these mutations is prophylactic removal of the breasts and/or ovaries. Dr. Lee is studying early changes in normal breast cells that may be indicative of BRCA-induced breast cancer—work that could inform new prevention and treatment strategies for this high-risk group.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Identifying early events that occur in normal breast tissue that may provide clues to new prevention strategies as well as early treatments to improve outcomes after cancer diagnosis.
Impact: Early detection and diagnosis of changes in the cellular components of the breast before breast epithelial cells become malignant has the potential to improve cancer risk management, especially for high-risk populations. Dr. Lee is using a variety of novel laboratory model systems to explore these changes in the normal breast of BRCA-mutation carriers that could inform new prevention and treatment strategies for this high-risk group.
Current investigation: She and her team are studying how mammary epithelial cells and the mammary gland micro-environment are altered in the breast tissue of BRCA1 carriers.
What she’s learned so far: Using normal tissue from breast reduction surgery in healthy women, Dr. Lee’s group compared the stromal cells and epithelial cells in BRCA-mutation carriers versus non-mutation carriers. They found early changes in cell compositions as well as molecular alterations in the mammoplasty reduction tissues of the BRCA1 carriers, but not unaffected women.
What’s next: Using a combination of model systems, Dr. Lee aims to identify factors that promote the proliferation of mammary epithelial cells from BRCA1 carriers, which could lead to the identification of potential targets for intervention.
Eva YHP Lee is the Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine.
In the late 1980’s, Dr. Lee reported the inactivation of the prototypic tumor suppressor gene, the retinoblastoma susceptibility gene (RB), in breast cancer. Subsequently, she and her team investigate how cells repair DNA breaks and identified new players that slow down the cell cycle while DNA damages are being repaired.
Her laboratory has established several breast cancer models to address the breast-specific function of the breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA1. They found that BRCA1 plays a role regulating the levels of progesterone receptors (PR). Her team has investigated the mechanisms involved and addressed whether anti-progesterone could be used to delay mammary tumors using the model systems. In addition, Dr. Lee and her team are exploring the link between the circadian system, BRCA1 and the regulation of female hormones.